Occasionally, I react to life with numbness.  Unintentionally, my body does it for me.

I work, teach, research and interact with students and others.   That weekly roller coaster starts Sunday afternoon early and runs through Thursday night, late.  Then add a few appointments for Friday and Saturday, projects, wonderful intrusions by kids and grand kids, an upkeep on ten acres and my week feels packed plus.

Then a close friend of Jill’s commits suicide.  Cat is sick – again.  Car dies in another city with wife in it.  The repairman pronounces the washer on life support, two weeks max.  Two projects stall.  Cash flow in one business is non-existent.  Two couples are divorcing, barring divine intervention.  Divine intervention’s response time seems slow.  Twenty small things all clamor for attention.  Bodily functions are not in the green zone.  Two may be redlining.

And I notice I am numb.  Something happens – again.  It is as if my nerve endings retreat a few millimeters inside the skin: insulated.  I feel less.  My heart beats, but places emotions offline for now.  My mind focuses on what’s before me, but all other incoming information is on alert — unless it screams its importance self-evidently, it’s pushed into background noise.  New thoughts must present themselves as salient with no emotional volatility or they go into a pile.  Oh, and life, as witnessed by paper and file piles, is backlogged.


I can fight numb, except sometimes it is my body’s way of saying, “Your ticket has been punched.  The Conductor is not passing back through the car for a while.  Shut up.  Pull in.  Breathe.  We will get back to you.”  Maybe I should rest inside numb for an hour or day.

Numb is not quite like shock.  Even if they fell alike, they are cousins, not the same person.   Numb seems to arise in response to an agglutination of antecedents.  Shock usually slipstreams behind trauma: singular, pronounced trauma.

I am numb.  The day is beautiful outside.  I will attack one more pile of paper, and go sit out on the deck to see if the dogwood tree will join in with the redbud trees this year.  It has languished the past two years, but maybe it will escape its cool numbness and blossom.

I might as well, too.  In an hour.