For the most part, I’ve found shock to be a negative experience. When I was five, my mom shocked me by announcing that my bother and I would no longer be allowed to play with the twin brothers down the street. Mom, whose warm, generous heart and positive spirit never excluded anyone, had decided that the bad boys, as she had nicknamed them, had done one too many awful things.
In the first grade, my teacher printed a giant “E” on a piece of paper in marker, and pinned it to the front of a boy’s shirt. She made him wear it home. I had been witness to his unruly behavior, but I was still shocked at how mean she was, to label the boy in public. When school let out and a couple hundred kids flooded the front sidewalk, fingers pointed at him from all directions. My stomach turned, not for his offenses, but for the punishment our teacher had dispensed.
When someone in my fourth grade class misbehaved or crossed our teacher, sometimes unknowingly, she–a four-foot-tall wisp of a woman–would go berserk, beat on his back with both fists, and scream and shout, continuing her tantrum for several minutes. I cringed at my desk until it stopped, shocked. I prayed that I would never be subject to her wrath.
Last year, I read on the Internet that Kristen Bell had died suddenly. My world turned dark. I’ve had a crush on her for years–ever since Veronica Mars–and my first thought was: No, not before I get to know her! A prospect, which, of course, is ridiculous. She’s a famous Hollywood actress and I’m a regular Midwest guy, with a regular job, and a regular life. Leaning the article was a hoax only slightly diminished the shock I felt at the news.
There have been plenty of bad shocks in my life, but sometimes shocks are positive, too. Like when Shiloh said maybe to one of my marriage proposals. We had dated for a couple of years–after she told me during our first dinner that she would never kiss me–and we grew closer with each passing day. After she had turned down eight previous proposals, the world I experienced with her was firmly structured around my undying love, counterpoint to her propensity to live–and love–in the moment. Her maybe broke that world apart. Like an egg cracked open from the inside out, suddenly a new, amazing life appeared before my eyes.
A happy delirium overtook me. I dreamed out our life together: our house of love, trips to Europe, our exciting, love-filled future where everything was dizzy and fresh and new every day. I continued to build that life, and embellished it with sumptuous detail. I crowned Shiloh the one I’d been waiting for, my perfect wife. We would live our lives happily together, our unshakable union growing ever stronger with each passing year.
Alas, her heart turned along with the pages of the calendar, and one day, abruptly, she left me. I was shocked, jolted, as if dowsed in sleep by a bucket of cold water. I awoke, startled and disoriented. My world churned end over end, my system crumbled, pieces of me thrashed about in the wind. Righting myself took a long, long time.
So what’s the lesson here? Should I insulate myself from shock by leaving my world less structured, less defined, less concrete? Had I been a victim of building my own dream castle? Would I do better if I allowed myself to flow in the moment? I’ve always found comfort in having things settled; roaming through life untethered would shake things up. Was I willing to trade daily comfort for a smaller number of big, disruptive, shocks? And if I was willing, would this even work?
Perhaps a wiser alternative is to simply acknowledge that shock will happen. That somewhere, sometime, when I least expect it, shock will occur, a shock that may surprise me, decimate me, or make me dizzy with happiness.
That would never happen
Blasts my lookout,
Shatters my view
Thoughts scatter like birds
I lay shaken,
Soon they return to view
Alight, draw into
Clusters of crests and crevices
Basins and boardwalks
Parkways and rivers
I peer up at my new landscape,
Study its fresh angles, and
Rise into my re-set world