Dear Jumbo: Choose pain over numbness

One thing I’m grateful for in life is that many people have shared with me their more intimate, vulnerable sides. Take an earlier personal experience: I grew up with neither many haves nor wants. When I went to schools with wealthier friends, I was surprised at how many put-together people are a mess inside. From broken families to broken self-images, from fear of not having enough food to eat to fear of not being enough, from hating ourselves to hating the system we are in, as long as we are alive, we all have a ton of problems. I think that speaks a lot about who we are and the condition of our lives. So what do we do with this mess called ‘being human?’

Let me first share with you my version of being a human. The story I told myself as I entered Tufts was “coming to Tufts was a dream come true, and I’m forever grateful for everything Tufts has given me. I want to give back.” It explains why I used to be really gung-ho about the whole ‘making the world a better place’ thing. In retrospect, one part of that gung-ho-ness has root in a youthful idealism, which is still very much burning. The other part, however, stems from an insecurity, a sense of not being enough for the world.

Since then, that story has evolved. I still want my work to contribute to something meaningful. Nevertheless, I am learning that it’s not ‘what I do’ but more ‘how I do’ that matters. Now I simply want to be more engaged in life, to live fully day by day. Perhaps it is maturity. Perhaps it is giving up control and trusting life more. Whatever it is, life is better that way, and the work I do becomes more joyful, sustaining and surprisingly more effective.

Here lies my mess: listening to people and hearing the same kind of stories again and again sometimes makes me afraid that I will not be able to feel the pain of the world, that I will be numb. As someone who spends a lot of time up in my head and not so much down here in my heart, I can tell you I’d rather be hurt than be numb. I fear becoming cynical.

Why should you care? Because sometimes you question if anyone will care about your story. “Why should I burden the already messy world with my problems?” you ask. Strangely enough, many people would trade anything to be in your shoes, to feel your sadness. They are the cynics who have been hurt and never truly recovered, who deep down yearn for something to connect with. I know it. I’ve been there.

And that’s why I share and celebrate with people when I feel sad. Because it’s sooo good to be sad. It reminds me that I am alive, that I am human. I’ve learned that if I cannot cry for real, I cannot laugh for real either.

Getting hurt sucks, but the alternative of getting numb sucks even more. It literally sucks the vitality out of life. Please, for everyone’s sake, don’t turn yourself into a walking zombie. Please, if you can, choose pain over numbness.

Laugh? Cry? Let me know at bit.ly/dearJumbo.


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