One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is when Jerry’s girlfriend challenges the normally aloof and sarcastic Jerry to get mad. Once he tries he accidentally experiences other emotions, culminating in tears. He is quite unhappy at that development. While it makes good comedy there is something to this. We all have shields and once something permeates them the results can be devastating. Jerry’s sarcasm and aloof mannerism shielded him from the world. I can relate.
I was the king of defense mechanisms. Self-deprecating humor, deflection, the ability to change the subject all helped me cope as my chronic illness, hell, life in general, began to exceed the limits of my anti-depressants. I was always able to present myself as genial, friendly and caring but when it came to myself no one got in. When someone tried to care about me I would deflect it. My shirt would be open enough to reveal the giant “S” on the undershirt and I stuck out my chest and deflected that bullet. I was once called “a sad clown”. When pressed for a definition my friend said you laugh, you make jokes and you love to make others laugh. But inside you’re sad. Boo fucking hoo I thought at that time but I have since come around to it. My happiness is a topic for another day but I will admit that I didn’t like to feel things. I always felt like I was not living my life but instead an onlooker who had access to my eyes. It was a paradox I could never reconcile. It wasn’t all the time but I felt that way enough to notice. And be concerned about it.
Now I have emotions. I experience more, I care more, I am more grateful. I feel in the present more. Maybe because I was given a tremendous gift, the gift of life. When a friend donates an organ to you it certainly challenges your paradigm. The transplant really is the only explanation. I was so grateful for the gift that it fundamentally changed me. The running joke among my friends was that it was because my donor was female. My running joke was that the gender of the donor didn’t matter, but why do I get bitchy once a month and pee sitting down? But seriously, why do I cry so easily? A good song, a fond memory, a moving story and of course a powerful family moment bring a unfamiliar salty discharge to my eyes.
My chronic illness has added to this as well. While I am not expected to die soon, I have most likely thought about my mortality a lot more than most men my age. I don’t have the expectation that I will live a long life and that I have plenty of time to mend fences. Everyone knows now how I feel about them. Even the ones that don’t deserve it…