I was going to write tonight about the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup sites. I was all prepared to go into how the choice of Qatar stank like a week-old haddock, and to openly speculate on what kind of bribes had been offered members of the FIFA executive committee. I even had a title picked out — “World C(orr)up(t?) 2022.”
In the end, I scrapped it. Partly, I didn’t want to sound like a big crate of sour grapes, like the Cavaliers fans who are, even as I’m writing this, chanting derisively at LeBron James during his first game back in Cleveland. (LeBron’s new team, the Miami Heat, is leading by 29 early in the fourth quarter, so you can see how well it’s working.) But mostly, I was finding that I just couldn’t work up a lot of emotion about it. I was kind of bummed that the U.S. won’t be hosting a World Cup until 2026 at the earliest … but that was all I was, kind of bummed.
As I thought about it, that’s how I’ve been a lot lately.
From childhood, I’ve always been a pretty emotional dude. I laughed, cried, protested and fell in love with surprising ease. I was prone to break into song or invective or tears without much difficulty, or warning. Many people, observing me over the years, thought I was a nut; a few were even nice enough to tell me so.
That didn’t immediately change in adulthood, either — often people who observed me in my twenties and thirties thought I was a little off, too. Co-workers often failed to understand that I was just a more emotional person than average; many bosses took it as a challenge to their authority, or their manhood, that I felt things so deeply, even when it had nothing to do with them. My wife occasionally seemed to be bothered that I was so passionate. So there was a constant pressure from almost all sides to “calm down.”
And in the church, there was that pressure as well. Even in the Pentecostal congregations in which I spent the better part of two decades, there was a concept of the ideal Christian as a solid, unshakeable stoic, unaffected by the events around him, his stone face set like flint toward wherever God was leading. We were asked if we were “a thermometer or a thermostat” — whether the circumstances we found ourselves in changed us or we changed the circumstances — and part of that abjuration was to avoid undue emotion. (Except when the worship band was playing or the preacher was looking for an “amen” from the audience.) Books like James Dobson’s “Emotions: Can You Trust Them?” were recommended, with the rhetorical answer being, “no, you can’t trust them, not one bit, better to avoid them.”
It was never stated outright that the Apostle Spock was to be our example, but it was often implied — and Jesus was often portrayed that way. And I envied people who could pull that off. I wanted to be like that (as, seemingly, everyone else wanted me to) but I couldn’t get the knack.
Looking back, it’s true that I was often whirled about by unnecessary emotion, and that I would have found many things in life much easier if I’d just been able to take it down a few decibels. But now I find that, while I’ve tamped down a lot of unnecessary emotion, I may have lost quite a bit of necessary emotion too.
Part of that clearing-out process was caused by the events of the last couple of years: my estrangement from the organized American church, my son’s near-fatal illness, my mother’s totally fatal illness, my continued unemployment, and all the familial stresses caused by all of the above. All those things use up a great deal of emotion, and it’s no surprise that after it all, I might be a wee bit drained.
But for every time I’m glad I can let things go and not bounce off the ceiling about the latest issue, there’s also a time when I should be feeling great joy or deep peace or righteous anger or grave disappointment, times when high levels of emotion are not just allowed but appropriate … and I don’t. Sean regains a skill or ability, Charlotte brings home another excellent report card, a friend gets a great new job, and where I should be jumping for joy, I find myself with a slight smile and restrained applause. Even when the Giants won the World Series, what would have been a rip-roaring time for me two or three years ago was just … I dunno, nice. I tried to get really excited, but more and more I realized I was faking it on some level.
Maybe once I get some distance on the crises of 2009-10, my emotional life will begin to flower again. Possibly if Sean achieves a full (or mostly full) recovery, or I start working again, I’ll be back to an older, wiser version of my former Tiggerish self. In fact, that’s my expectation — I am, after all, still me. But I know that I’ll never wish to be the Apostle Spock again, because frankly it’s not that great a lifestyle. I’ve gotten a taste of living with less feelings … and it’s mostly seems like living less.
I used to want to not have so much emotion. Now I find that you don’t really appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. And I want it back … even more than I want an in-depth investigation of the World Cup bidding process. Which is really saying something.