As I was coming home tonight my thoughts turned to how beautiful my drives have been for the past few days.
I’m not a fan of autumn. Fall in Ohio is just the signal for me that frigid temperatures and long months stuck inside are on their way, and I’m reminded once again of why I swore when I left I’d never come back here to live unless I had no other choice. I had no other choice.
But fall in Ohio *is* beautiful. Colors abound, and leaves go flying, and on a long drive in the country one can’t help but gape and stare in awe at the painted trees and blowing leaves.
At least that’s how I feel now. Living, as I do, overwhelmed with emotion at the slightest thing. I couldn’t help but reflect on that during my drive home today. Beauty, or rather, the recognition of beauty, is an emotion.
Not so long ago I had no concept of beauty.
When I was a child we went on quite a few long distance vacations, and nearly always by car. We spent hour after hour driving, through some of the most beautiful areas of the country. My mother used to insist on calling our attention to anything she thought was beautiful or noteworthy, and always seemed disappointed by my reaction, which was usually "uh huh".
She especially liked it when sunbeams would peek through a partially cloudy sky and would point them out incessantly… I didn’t even realize, until recently, what a sunbeam was supposed to be.
I used to ask her what she was talking about, and she would say "see, the sun’s peeking through the clouds there" — which was the most obvious comment I’d ever heard, it baffled me to no end. Of course the sun was coming through the clouds. The sun shines, the clouds exist, and how much light gets through, where, and what angle it comes through at, is purely a function of physics. What did she expect to happen? Of course I could see that particular ray of sun that was hitting the ground in an obvious way, but it’s source was no mystery to me, and I couldn’t figure out why she needed to point at it, or any of the others.
A few years ago I was driving with a friend, on a partially cloudy day, and we came over a hill to find a group of clouds, placed just so, such that the sun was filtered down in a beautiful collection of rays which illuminated the country side in an intricate pattern. I think my jaw actually dropped. It was stunning. After staring for a moment I looked at my friend, said something like "those are sunbeams, aren’t they?!" and he, knowing me as he did, busted up laughing. He didn’t have to be told that I had just seen sunbeams for the first time, but I told him anyway, and we marveled together for a while at the beauty before us.
The difference between those early encounters, and the more recent one was not a function of one set of sunbeams being more obvious, or more spectacular, than all the others. The difference is emotion. I am an emotional being now. I wasn’t for the first half of my life.
I’m sure a psychologist would have a hay-day with this, if I ever saw one. They’d probably tell me that my lack of emotion through the age 16 stemmed from some trauma that occurred when I was a child. Perhaps it did. I’ll likely never know. The slate of my childhood memory from before the age of 8 shows only a few very short snippets, and tells me nothing. My first real memories involve no emotion other than frustration and anger. While I spent a lot of time upset, crying, and having meltdowns, it was all about frustration and exhaustion. I spent a lot of time doing things I enjoyed, but that was about accomplishment and physical feelings: completing patterns, making a basket, getting an A, feeling the air rushing by or the sun on my face. I have no memories of happiness, hurt feelings, sadness, or love from those years.
I do know that in November of my Junior year of highschool a floodgate opened and I encountered emotion for the first time. I thought, for years, that perhaps all the emotions I should have felt over the course of my childhood had built up and flooded back to hit me all at once. It took me years to come to a place where no longer felt like I was constantly drowning under the deluge. Lately, as I’ve finally learned to get somewhat of a handle on my emotions, I find myself thinking that perhaps I just feel all feelings far too deeply, and perhaps I turned them off at some early age out of self-defense.
I hate emotions. They’re confusing. They’re unnecessary. They’re crippling. They do not seem controllable, and until these past couple of years I was utterly defenseless against them.
But without emotion there is no love, there is no happiness, and there is no beauty. On days like today, that seems a crying shame.