Once wearing your heart upon your sleeve was all the rage. Everybody had a story to tell, it seemed, and was determined everybody else should listen to it. The planet could probably have borne the strain of such universal insistence on being heard, even the alarming increase in noise pollution created by the constant recounting of old stories as if they were, in the blare of blurbspeak, “ground-breaking,” “pioneering,” “peerless,” “thought-provoking,” “incisive,” “trenchant,” “salient,” “compelling,” “commanding,” “gripping,” “riveting,” “engrossing,” “illuminating,” “masterful,” “monumental,” “towering,” “visionary,” “revelatory,” “époque-making,” “seminal,” “definitive,” “essential,” “indispensable,” and such. Or the dangers to the ozone posed by TV and Internet venting of every personal trial (real or invented) and every tribulation, grievance, recrimination, loathing, tattle, urge for revenge, childhood trauma, adolescent infatuation, adult seductions and infidelities, old age impotence, self-exploration, self-discovery, self-promotion, self-justification, self-denial, self-doubt, self-pity, self-flagellation, self-crucifixion, self-forgiveness, self-transcendence, and such. It was a wonder any of these hearts survived the wear and tear that came of trying to get the rest of humanity to listen along to one’s inner voices. Many, admittedly, didn’t survive being paraded about on the sleeve like this and, having been ripped loose or merely fallen away, became a blight upon the landscape, fluttering idly in the wind or else ending up in some ditch with the other cold litter of defeat. But failures on this scale were meaningless beside one far worse. Stripping your heart naked to the eyes of others in the first place was a trespass so deep few recognized the true loss, the tragedy. Because the heart is for darkness, not just of it. What lies there of most value will not bear the light for long without beginning to shrivel and fade. Instead it must remain hidden away in its own holy of holies, a sacred mystery. Humble silence in service to it, once broken, cannot be redeemed, neither with boisterous acclaim nor tears of regret. But that was the seductive wish, to ransack the altar of the self and then be praised or lashed for it. Either way, the forfeit could hardly be understood by those who’d lost nothing by it themselves, whether as readers or listeners or merely passers-by who paused in their pressing errands to ask what all the commotion was about. Everyone had a role to play in this sad performance. Yet whose part was most abject? Whose pecking away at the spirit was truly unspeakable? Could there be any doubt? To lay bare what makes you who you are, is there a greater folly and steeper fall? For you have given up what gave you strength: secrets that when spread amount to very little but so long as no one knew, set every measure of the world. Deepest longings, passions without name, flights of madness or inspiration, fears, angers, hatreds, smoldering treacheries, obsessions and lassitudes, failures of nerve, failures of empathy, impulsive generosities or alibis, rationalizations, grandiose arrogance and then freezing despair, ecstasy and desolation in one and the same beat—to wear all these upon your sleeve and never again dare to say, “I am not what I am”? What blind self-betrayal.
Copyright © 2009 by Geoffrey Grosshans