I’ve cracked the code. People have been telling me all my life that I’m too sensitive. And I think they’re right. I absorb everything that goes on in a room, and I am not easily able to forget stuff. I usually stay up all night processing it all – everything anyone did or said throughout the day, as well as my reactions. It’s a problem. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between my own emotions and someone else’s. It’s also very hard for me to deliver bad news or stand up for myself in a situation where I know I will rock the boat; I am simultaneously experiencing my own feelings and the predicted response of my interlocutor.
I was extremely fortunate this summer to be gifted with a half-day horseback ride through Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, perhaps the prettiest place I’ve ever been. I’d only been on horseback once before, but was told then I was ‘a natural’ at it. However, I wouldn’t want to discount the importance of having a good horse. This time, too, I had a great horse, and a great ride.
For hours I let my body assume the rhythm of the horse and think about only these few things: no sudden movements, no loud noises, and—no matter what happens—don’t let go of the reins unless you are already on the ground.
It became clear to me in the third hour that the way to explain being ‘a natural’ at horseback riding, though I have done it only twice, is just to say that I trusted the horse. That way, I had very little to think about and could just gaze around at the wild burros, pronghorn, and bison that dot the landscape of the Black Hills. During this time, the chorus came to me, and the rest unfolded to the reliable cadence of the horse’s movements.
I had the keen sense that the point was not for me to feel what my horse, Doc, was feeling. After all, she had shoes nailed into her feet and had to cross eight rocky streams and several narrow mountain passages. The key was to know that I was not, in fact, the horse, but the rider—whose job was entirely different: to trust the animal.
Too Much Empathy (Traveling III)
You see from my expression I’ve been taken by the reins
The slightest raw emotion and I fold like paper cranes
The body is a bellows and I soak in what I breathe
The squeals of kids on swings, the screams of babies as they teethe
The empathy’s too much, but I can’t help but feel it all
I throw back all your angst, I say your name, I hit a wall
But I trust the horse I’m riding even on the steeper hills
And I trust the healing process after cuts and cramps and spills
I trust the clothes I’m wearing—my jeans and spurs and boots
These things I’ve made mine; I have my wings, I know my roots
But I don’t want to feel what you’re feeling
I just want to know what you know
I hold fast to my own heart, high or low
The volumes that I process I’m unable to forget
My memory’s off the charts; my turning radius is set
But I’ll take the straight and narrow on the mountain that I climb
I trust the dark and stony cave; my eyes can see through time
And I trust the horse I’m on; he knows which animal he is
And I trust the bit and bridle and the things that he’s made his
I trust the clothes I’m wearing—my spurs and boots and jeans
I'm out here on my own; I know the way, I have the means
And I don’t want to feel what you’re feeling
I just want to see what you see
I need to know there’s a difference between you and me
I trust the horse I’m riding even on the steeper hills
I trust the healing process after cuts and cramps and spills
I trust the clothes I’m wearing—my boots and jeans and spurs
I keep my chin up all along. They say an optimist endures.
I don’t want to feel what you’re feeling
I just want to know what you know
I hold fast to my own heart as I go