When I really want to feel life, I put on Billy Joel’s “Songs in the Attic” and drive to work.
It doesn’t have to be Billy Joel. Jackson Browne also works. Depending on the season, so does Randy Newman or the Beach Boys or Elvis Costello’s and Burt Bacharach’s Painted from Memory. In fact, I created a “Songs that Move Me” mix for the very purpose of crying in the car.
If I was more disciplined, I would commit to a regular heart-opening practice, such as meditation or journaling. But as a full-time immigrant executive mom of three, my ride to work is about the only reliable stretch of quiet time I’ve got these days.
I realized this one day, as I was driving the 20 minutes from my house to my office, amongst the green hills of the Western Galilee. “Hmm,” I thought. “Rather than listen to the news or gripe about the traffic, this would be quite the picturesque opportunity to feel.”
Not move. Not do. Not think.
I can’t speak for the rest of humanity, but I’m not well-trained for feeling and being. Very well-trained for moving and doing, but not feeling and being.
One of my intentions when I moved to Israel was to get better at “being.” Being present. Experiencing life fully.
If there’s a place in the world to live that brings you ever closer to the realization that there’s “no day but today,” it’s the Middle East. But since I got a full-time job here, and moreso since I was promoted to a senior level management position at the company for which I work, my doing is trumping my being. I realized how severe the problem was when I started dreaming about people from work. I started to understand just how not present I was when rockets started falling again in Southern Israel a few weeks ago.
Like everyone else, I thought a lot about it. I read about it. I posted articles on Facebook.
But, in all honesty, I didn’t feel it much.
And that worries me.
I don’t miss the booming or the shaking — For that, I am grateful. I am grateful that we live three hours North of where the kassams are falling. I am grateful our kids are still going to school. I am grateful I can leave for work in the morning and feel fairly confident that all will be well when I return in the evening.
As much as any of us in the world can, at least.
But I worry that I don’t physically feel that ache in my heart for the children who are missing school because the sirens won’t stop or physically feel in my throat the lump that represents compassion for the parents who have to drop down to the ground and shield their children each time there is “tzeva adom” (red alert).
Of course, I am not an animal. I think compassion and I think worry and I even think fear. I think about it a lot. But I don’t know that I feel it. At least, not deeply enough to do me good.
Martha Beck writes,
“Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests and falls in a series of waves. Each wave washes a part of us away and deposits treasures we never imagined.
Out goes naivete, in comes wisdom; out goes anger, in comes discernment; out goes despair, in comes kindness. No one would call it easy, but the rhythm of emotional pain that we learn to tolerate is natural, constructive and expansive… The pain leaves you healthier than it found you.”
In her bestseller, Expecting Adam, Beck also writes, “You’ll never be hurt as much by being open as you have been hurt by remaining closed.”
I know this to be true. And yet sometimes I forget.
And while I can’t speak for all humanity, I would guess that a lot of us do. Forget, that is. Feel numb, that is. Turn our faces away from the scenes that disturb us. Turn up the loud music to drown out the voices that worry us, or the memories that cause us pain. Breathe a sigh of relief that someone else’s worry is not our worry today.
I won’t drive down South with my children to experience the fear and pain of rockets for myself. But I can and will drive to work with my “Songs that Move Me” mix or my Billy Joel so that I feel the rhythm of emotional pain.
It’s an emotional pain I can tolerate. It’s, as Beck says, constructive and expansive.
I often compare my “heart-opening drive” to Holly Hunter’s cry in “Broadcast News.” For some reason, since I first fell in love with this film at age 13, I always related to the Holly Hunter character. In particular, to the scene when she unplugs the phone in her motel room and allows herself five minutes just to cry.
What is she doing? I always thought, when I watched this movie as a young adult. I don’t get it.
But now I do.
That motel room. Those five minutes of silence. It’s a safe space for her to flirt with deep emotion.
And my mountainous, twisting and turning commute up towards the Western Galilee offers me the same.
The solitude provides me with the opportunity; and the right choice of music weakens my chest just enough to let a little feeling in.
Today on my car radio, Billy Joel sings Summer, Highland Falls. And I cry.
Perhaps Joel was writing about his messy divorce, or his childhood, but this morning when I listen to the emotionally heavy poetry woven into his words, I only hear Israel:
“And so we’ll argue and we’ll compromise, and realize that nothing’s ever changed.
For all our mutual experience, our separate conclusions are the same…
Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity…A reason coexists with our insanity…
And so we choose between reality and madness
It’s either sadness or euphoria.”