I am an extremely clumsy person, the sort who gets sauce on the clothes somehow and so well its nearly a talent, the sort of person who stumbles over stairs all the time. The sort who knows the next painful reminder of this unfortunate flaw is always around the corner.
And from one of these stumbles this story doth begin. I was running up the stairs, not sure why but sometimes I have the boundless energy of a child or a locomotive heading for a mountain and often I hit it. Anyway I was stumbling up these stairs when I hit my knee in that spot. I don’t know what this spot is called or really anything about it just that when I hit myself there it hurts like a muther…., (am going on the assumption that mothers hurt much more during labour.) it was that nerve part and the pain rushed to my brain. It was the kind of pain that made me want to puke. I could feel the bile rising and then slowly I controlled it and held my leg in my hands waiting for it to subside which it did.
The result of this hurt was a nice, well weird, present. Not from anyone in particular just that part of my brain that still gets confused between pleasure and pain. As soon as I cooled down I knew this would be one of those good aches, the kind that straddle the fence of masochism with all the poise of a reluctant lover. It was confusing and not exactly pleasant but I enjoyed it no end. The pain kept radiating and I loved the feeling. I have never quite understood why this happens; all I know is I would jump, or lean more weight on the foot than necessary and then smile.
That got me thinking about this human tendency to like the things that hurt us. Maybe that’s why girls go out with all these guys who break their hearts, and guys do it too, falling for that one chic that will truly do a number on them. Maybe pain is our mark as a species. Like that old Jewish saying “sufferance is the badge of our tribe.” We hurt and we complain about it. But we enjoy the pain. It makes us feel something, makes us human, makes us feel alive and no one can knock that no matter what else. I don’t think am alone in this. Pain is the real reason we live, the real reason we love. The pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of its end. No one who was never truly happy can be truly sad. Well these sad, depressing, dark thoughts ran through my mind and I felt down.
I had to read anyway so I went to the library. I got a table that was made for 2. It’s a kind of table with a wall in between, on either side there is a chair the effect of which is you can be looking at the person opposite you the whole time. Well, I went to read and I lucked on this table which had a pretty girl sitting opposite me. Every once in a while I would look up and try to digest a concept or cram what I had just read and sometimes she would be looking up at the same time. Our eyes would meet and I was never sure whether she was in that special place people go to when the world disappears and a meeting of the eyes is nothing more than a coincidence or if she was also gazing back. But it always had such an effect on me. It would leave me flustered for a moment or two and getting back to read was an exercise of willpower. It happened a couple of times and I thought to myself “I should greet her let her know how good she looks today.” So I did, just before I picked up my books to leave. And that was when it happened; this look of pure pleasure overcame her face. She smiled the smile of the forgotten, the smile of a child, a smile that isn’t asking for anything just expressing pure gratitude. She looked away and back in the same instant in that contradictory way women do that convey both shyness and willingness. This filled me with such happiness that the dark clouds were dispelled.
Then outside on my way to class I met this other girl. She is usually so chipper, one of the few people who can actually be described as bubbly. She smiles all the time and talks so quickly. Am not sure that quick speech is necessary for bubbliness but it seems to be. And her voice is the kind of voice that picks up a dead army, while at the same time convincing them of the wonders of pacifism. she’s who to call when am feeling down because the hello is enough, simply enough. But today she was sad. Really sad, she was down and damp. I know this happens to everyone, we can’t have just good days. But it had such an effect on me. I wanted to leave but I was rooted to the spot convinced that perharps I could help, and I would tell her a joke and she would smile but it was fleeting. A look that would come across her face and then disappear, a memory before it was fully formed. And I would try to make it last but nothing I said could help. And it felt so frustrating. Sometimes only sleep can heal things.
Then I left and went to class where I saw real power. In the middle of her lecture one of the lecturers stopped talking and stared at the back of the class. Except stare is not the right word because it lacks the sense of purpose that this look had. All through class there had been the chattering and texting that goes with young people gathered together somewhere. But when she looked to the back at someone who had interrupted her everyone fell silent. She cut through all the noise and distraction until in that class there was just her and this person she was looking at, in fact the person was not even part of the equation, all that was left was that stare. It was deadening and sound died like in one of those rooms with muffling acoustics when noise flares up just to realize it can’t beat design. If she had held that stare bit longer a few people would have fainted but she didn’t. She spoke and then the silence was broken and the moment gone. It was that kind of silence where no one notices they are quiet or that anyone else is until it passes and relief washes over everyone. A collective breath is released as people realize the world isn’t really ending. There was nothing this lady could do to punish anyone at this stage in our education but just by keeping quiet and looking with purpose and yes power at some poor person she silenced the whole class. I had noticed earlier that she could get everyone to hang on her words when she was on one of her rhetorical rolls but getting people to hang onto her silence, to hold on to nothing and hold it till permission was implied to let go, that was real power.