I hate talking about feelings. Maybe not hate, maybe just dislike. At least in person and to people. Talking about feelings – real feelings – just always seems so needy and foolish and stupid. That’s why I write them out. When I write about feelings, I understand them better. I am able to express them more coherently. I often feel the need to be coherent when I communicate because I feel far too easily misunderstood. Maybe we all do.
But what are we to do with feelings? Feel them, seems like the obvious answer. Maybe, I say. But not always, I also say. It’s a contradiction, I know. Don’t take any advice from me about feelings – this is just how I express mine and I by no means claim it as the best way. It might even be the worst. I believe in feeling the things that I need to at a particular moment in time whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, passion, confusion. But I don’t believe in feeling them always.
You see, I think feelings can alter our judgments from experiencing reality if any objective reality does exist, and I believe it does. But this belief is not a feeling, it is an assertion of faith. But feelings can danger our experiences and beliefs if they are so raw and unkempt. Our feelings may replace our beliefs and experiences if we are not careful with them.
On Sunday evening, I was sad. At first, for no particular reason, I was just sad – an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction and an unpleasant lens of myself and my place in the world overcame me. Then I became sad for particular reasons. I accepted it for a little while and read and wrote to embody the sadness. When you’re in a feeling, it is easy to continue to stay there. Then I remembered a quote about happiness, “You might as well be happy because no one really cares whether you’re sad.” Or at least that’s how I remember it. Anyway, I wanted to stop feeling sad.
I didn’t immediately become happy so as to become the opposite of sad but I did become thoughtful and aware that I had some power in how I felt about my feelings. Feelings are natural but they are also unnatural. They can be overwhelming and overbearing. They can reveal to us what we don’t know while simultaneously exposing what we always knew. Feelings are our soul’s witness to our human experience or maybe our human witness to our soul’s experience. Either way, feelings are real. But they are also as real as we want them to be. Do what you will with your feelings – allow them to define you or don’t, expose them or hide them, acknowledge them or numb them. Whatever you decide, know that your feelings can change who you are, and who you are, can change your feelings.
I want to see you fall asleep each night.
I want to see you the nights you feel like staying awake and splitting a cheap bottle of wine with me, theorizing life and love, questioning the pursuit of happiness, and whether or not happiness truly exists at all. I want to see you the nights you feel as though you have found yourself in a creative rut and you don’t want to talk about it. I want to see you the nights you are straining to keep your eyes focused clear ahead on your work, until the moment you eventually give in and fall fast asleep.
I want to see you wake up every morning.
I want to see you pull the covers back the mornings you can’t wait to jump out of bed to take on the world. I want to see you crawl back under the covers the mornings you don’t want to see the light of day. I want to see you the mornings you hide your head under your pillow and question if what you are doing in life makes sense. I want to see you the mornings you are scared of losing yourself, and even the mornings you are scared you might be losing me. I want to see you the mornings you wonder if you would rather be alone. I want to see you the mornings you stop to squeeze me tightly on your way out the door.
I want to see you follow your dreams.
I want to see you run after what you love without stopping to walk, without looking back for anyone, including me. I want to see you light up about your art in the same way that others do when they catch a glimpse of your art for the first time. I want to see your heart shine through each piece of work that you pour your sweat and tears into. I want to see these same tears fall from your face when the impact of your work is not loudly proclaimed. I want to see you find your own way to silently rejoice. I want to see you reach for my hand, when you feel you have nowhere else to reach.
I want to see you make a difference in this cruel and beautiful world, because I know that you can. And I know that you will.
I want to see you.
But most of all, I want you to see how much you have helped me see.
We all promise we won’t lose touch. Friends forever. You’re like my brother. My sister. I won’t be gone for that long. We’re not going to change that much. I met a lot of people along the way and very few measured up to the idea I carried with me of the friends I made in adolescence and college. Eventually, I came to realize how narrow my thinking had been. The kind of limited thinking that leads to further isolation. Over the years I’ve met people just as good as my old buddies. But that doesn’t mean they’ll ever take the place of those first, best friends. Unless there is a betrayal or another form of irreversible falling out, those people exist in your memory as lighthouses guiding your mind to better times.
Our freedom and our travel pushes us away from the people we leave. They aren’t left behind, not in a negative sense, but there is a separation there. Experiences formed with new people in new places. We live our lives and the world does its work on us until we become alien to the people who knew us. We learn strange things. Different languages. Different places. Different ways of thinking.
We end or leave the things that bonded us together—geography, college, a city, a job—and start again. The people in those new places fill voids, and you compare them to your old, trusted, loyal friends. Until you recognize that they’ll never fill that void and stop with the comparisons. You’ll never meet the same person twice. If you think you have, just give it a minute. We like to compare people just like we compare places. It gives us a reference point. But it’s reductive and limiting to think like this.
The life you want is almost never what someone else wants.“If I could see all my friends tonight.” We do get together sometimes. It happens now at weddings and occasionally other random reunions, and it’s one of the great joys in my life, to get a big group of friends together. That’s the most I can ask for, and the best I’ll ever get.
I wish I could have both. I wish I could have the domestic life with my old friends that we’d want to escape and I wish I could have the life I have that I don’t want to escape but is far from my friends. I chose the latter and gave up something big.
I learned your profile by following you around with sideward glances, sly shifts of my eyes to one side or the other, trying to catch your shadow before you caught I learned your voice by standing back and listening, memorizing the way you exaggerate your vowels and patter around your consonants. I never even noticed your accent because it sounded like mine and it made me smile.
I learned the quiet simplicity of your hands by holding my breath every time you touched my arm, playfully squeezed my sides, or quickly touched the small of my back. I lived for those pauses in air and heartbeats.
I learned your favorite words by enticing them out of you. Being quiet for once in my talkative life and letting you teach me things about life, love, and pain allowed me to explore the crevices in your story, the cracks in your self-murmured biography.
I learned to recognize when you were sad…that when you were quiet or avoided my dark brown eyes with your warm hazelnut ones that something was wrong. I dreaded these days because they made me sad too…
I learned to wait for you…to wait for you to offer me a smile, to placate me with a touch, to grace me with your words, or to amaze me with your beauty. I would have waited for a week at a time, then a month, then a semester, and would have forever been waiting.
I learned you.
But have you learned me?
I’ve had a preoccupation lately — especially when walking down the street listening to piano music — with imagining what it would be like to get shot in the chest. There’d be a jolt of impact, a hard jab that knocks the wind out of you. Then I’d drop to my knees, and everything surreal — people running and screaming, maybe a siren, or maybe no one notices at all, just a bird floats overhead in an ordinary sky on an ordinary sunny day. There’d be blood, and then I’d lie down and go to sleep.
I’ve tried to dismiss it — clunky, overly-emotional collocation; cheap and melodramatic feeling. But I can’t. When I think about loving someone, I think about dying. I think about her dying and us dying and me dying for her. Carl Jung said something like, “Where there is light there is always a shadow.”
Death and love are the same this way: they are the only things I’m sure are true. They are, in a sense, the only things that exist. I don’t know why I’m alive, or if I’m always doing the right thing. I can’t ground my words to something immovable, or tell you much about cause and effect. (If in accuracy we only learn what we do not know, shouldn’t we exalt beauty?)
But I can tell you that my heart quivers and my stomach drops when I see her. And I can tell you about phone calls and funerals and he’s not coming back. And I think the only way to live fully is to give up what I can’t know, and to drop to my knees and worship what I do, and be vulnerable to it — love + death — to recognize their higher power.
And I think: for love to abandon me is for death to catch me — walking down the street, listening to piano music — with a shot to the chest.
Jesse Williams is another Black Celebrity who is awake and conscious.
"I see it time and time again, and it doesn’t move the story forward. It just kind of cryogenically freezes us in this old racial paradigm." - Jesse Williams
Jesse and John been going IN.
God bless them