Sometimes in 2022 in Brooklyn, NY.
My bike needs some tuning & my body is out of whack.
My head is buzzing like a beehive.
I am exhausted.
My lower back is aching,
Sharp pain is rolling down my left leg; it was behind my heart yesterday.
Like a little creature with a mind of its own, the pain seems to be exploring & traveling behind my back.
I am so exhausted.
A truck is backing up below my apartment window: beep- pause- beep-pause- beep.
Another one joins in.
They are not in sync, and the beeps superimpose themselves in a litany, sounding like they are screaming at each other as if arguing about who is backing up better or faster.
The sound is like what my back feels like.
I am so exhausted.
On the other side of my apartment, the back window is open; I can hear the children from the neighborhood elementary school squealing as they rush outside.
That noise, rather than its familiar & comforting texture of cheer, joy & excitement, sounds today too strident & fearful.
I get closer to the window, stretching my ears to listen deeply.
The image of a person with an automatic weapon flashed before my eyes.
My heart races & I feel the heat on my cheeks.
No. No gunshots, just kids playing.
I am just so exhausted.
I grab my phone to answer a few texts.
In 10 minutes flat, I engaged with 5 different people in 3 languages; I scrolled a bit and absorbed 30 different ways to improve my life drastically, manage my stress, learn what is the deep meaning of my life, condemn bigotry, fascism, terrorism, death, invitations for breathwork, psychedelic, higher consciousness, green clothing, a new way of human composting, and I even manage to process my payroll.
I am so exhausted.
I manage to get on my bike in the hope that moving my body is what I need amidst exhaustion. But 1st, groceries & a quick stop at the bike store.
The phone rings.
My older son needs advice on managing a job transition, giving notice, going to interviews, managing his income, or the lack thereof.
I found myself speaking more than listening.
I don’t let him finish.
My mind races.
I see his conundrum from so many points of view at once: from an employer who has had much young staff over the years, from an employee that I once was, from a mother caring for her son, from a 50-year-old woman with diverse life experiences, and from what I imagine his my 22-year-old son’s needs.
My speech accelerates, and I can hear my heart beating.
I am making a point while utterly missing it at the same time.
I hang up, puzzled at this moment of missed parenting.
I am so exhausted.
While talking on the phone, I made it to a supermarket across from a bike store: I just needed bananas & crackers.
I am unfamiliar with that place & regardless, every supermarket makes my head explode; I rarely go in.
How many kinds of sodas, tomato sauce, jam, or laundry detergent are too many?
My eyes float between aisles, trying to decipher where I could find the two items I need without losing too much time, without getting overwhelmed. I look down the cereal aisle, and it is like looking through a giant kaleidoscope: so many colors, all the boxes neatly lined up on the shelves. No food in sight yet.
Just things labeled as food: Just an accumulation of marketing strategies, of products that have been utterly devoid of their life-giving energy, just aisles after aisles of soil exhaustion, human exhaustion, planet exhaustion.
Oh Yeah, this is why I am so exhausted…
I grab what I need and get out quickly.
I cross the street to have the chain of my bike replaced, and a woman approaches me there.
I am in no mood to talk.
She asks if my repair will take long because she is in a rush.
My response is short & my tone is explicit.
“No, it shouldn’t be, don’t worry.”
She squints & says: “How many languages do you speak?”
She must have picked up my accent, and I answer: “3”.
I don’t want to talk to her.
I am exhausted.
I want the earth to split open & swallow me.
She looks pleased by my answer:
“Me, I speak 12.”
I want to run.
Not that I could run far or fast, though…
She goes on:
I am screaming inside.
I wish I could let my jaw drop open.
Yeah, this I could do.
A primal scream: it would start like a grunt and finish as a full-blown explosion.
Running feels too hard, but screaming, I could do it until I am empty.
“Ah, that’s great,” I say, not believing her and moving away.
“My name is Mary; what’s yours?” she answers immediately.
And just like that, Mary jumps right in:
“Catherine, let me show you.”
And only then do I realize that Mary looks like she is 20 but is probably a lot older.
Although the day is scorching, she wears a wool beret perched on the side of her head. I realize that her mousseline dress is ageless and formless & that her shoes are out of place somehow. Her skin is diaphragm.
She reaches into one of the backpacks in the little trailer attached to her bike and retrieves a notebook.
A big yellow one.
“Let me show you: I am going to be a teacher; I am studying all those languages to become one!”.
She flips through the pages, and I am absolutely stunned: there are pages and pages, hundreds of pages of vocabulary, neatly aligned, classified by languages.
I recognize the Korean pictogram; I spot pages filled with words in the Cyrillic alphabet and others with the ring on top of the As.
Pages and pages and pages.
Hundreds of pages in dozens of notebooks.
I am beyond exhausted, but this is not a problem anymore.
I understand that Mary is not seeing the world as I see it, and I drop my NY armor.
I turn around and see that my bike still needs to be ready. I certainly have a few minutes to spare.
I turn back to Mary and soften:
“This is amazing, Mary; look at that; you are such a hard worker!”
My words seem to be gliding past her. She doesn’t care about my generic compliments.
She has, by then, launched herself in the torrid explication of her method of memorization, research, & organization.
I can’t keep up with what she is saying, not by any lack of coordination on her end but because of my inability to process everything.
I have encountered the living human version of the Babel Tower.
I let the flow of her words wash over me.
They fuse out of her mouth in all languages.
Her fingers flip through the pages & notebooks, her head tilts, & her little woolen beret slides. I wonder if it will fall, but she pushes it back, her thin brown hair tangled under.
Fifteen minutes and a few thousand words in 12 different languages later, my bike is ready.
I pay the man.
Mary has not stopped talking; she is following me around, her notebooks like her beret, in a precarious equilibrium.
“Mary, I am going to have to go; it was very nice to meet you; good luck with becoming a teacher.”
She doesn’t stop. Her eyes riveted between mine and her notebooks.
I keep smiling and move away slowly; she follows me.
I eventually get on my bike & pedal away.
There is no way to exit gracefully; Mary will not stop.
In the distance, words in an unknown language still reach me.
Within minutes, I wondered if Mary really existed or if my exhausted mind had made her up.
Was it a lucid dream?
It was like the exhausted yet overstimulated part of me had stepped out of my body and come and talk to me.
Was Mary just a mere allegory of all the burlesque amount of information and stimulation I am trying to make sense of? Is it even possible to make sense of it all?
Am I like Mary, trying so hard to communicate with all using words & thoughts that are utterly incomprehensible for most?
And not useful for what I am trying to achieve?
What am I trying to achieve anyway?
Was Mary trying to desperately communicate with as many people as she could in as many languages as possible to reach the ultimate goal: Connecting?
And was she the symbol that her quest for the words impeded her from doing what she was yearning for: connect?
Was she mirroring my internal process of never being able to stop, rest, listen, to shut the fuck up?
And could it be why I was so fucking exhausted?
Exhausted from trying to make sense of it all with my brain.
Exhausted to process what I can’t process.
Exhausted from trying too hard in the wrong direction?
I make it back to my house & decide to lie down and consciously breathe for 60 minutes.
At the end of the hour, I am amazed at my body able to follow, amidst all the exhaustion, the simple command of intentional breath.
My head is clear, and the pain in my lower back has receded a bit.
I step outside in an unexpected warm golden sunset.
The phone rings, and it is my son again.
I apologize for my deregulated nervous system earlier.
I hear him smile, and he says our conversation helped him.
Not all words were lost then.
I relax against the brick wall.
A couple walks by.
They are old and slow, smiling gingerly.
I return home & switch off all my devices for the evening.
The world will still be there tomorrow.
Mary might show up again, making sense of the world in a thousand words per minute, and me, just one breath at a time.
“Not everything has to be thought to be understood.”
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés Reyes
(Ancient Archtetypes Vol 1. June 2023).
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