“That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of its frequency has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind, and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lives on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk around well wadded with stupidity.”
GEORGE ELIOT – Middlemarch
I am overwhelmed by this quote. It appears in the front pages of a biography of the author, Richard Yates. If you’ve read Revolutionary Road or anything else by him you know him to be a master of exploring “the other side of silence.” His work conveys the deep pain of the unnoticed and the unexpressed.
I am overwhelmed by Eliot’s quote and drawn to it in the same way I was overwhelmed by and drawn to David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005 (read it here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178211966454607.html).
In the same way I was overwhelmed by and drawn to Oprah Winfrey’s declared purpose; that her show existed to help people be “seen, heard and understood.”
So much unmet need. So much fear of loss. So much pain. All of it swirling around us; in us. All of it waiting to be noticed and tended to. I am overwhelmed and drawn to these words because they represent an immovable, impossible standard which, in my imperfection I am failing, utterly failing, to meet.
It is beyond humbling to be reminded that I am walking around “well wadded with stupidity.” That I choose to display a version of ignorance that matches what my ego can tolerate at that moment. I have so much to do, say, be and become. Please don’t derail me with your needs, wants and desires. Please don’t ask me to be about you, for you, for even five minutes, unless you want my resentment and frustration.
Please don’t act out a script which I have not written and cast for this occasion. Just play your part. I will play mine.
© 2010 David Berry