Like the steady drip of water against the face of a stone mountain over epochs, or the ravages of heavy winds and waves on sea shores over eons, or the pounding of shod hooves on dirt over centuries, the environment is altered and changed by even the smallest particular collisions, even noticeably so if given enough time. Flesh has its own way of changing in response to these collisions. Scarification and callous formation, for example, offer the skin a chance to protect itself from repeat assaults by lacerations, burns, and abrasions. Stone has no such capability, neither do the sea shores, nor the earth. They, unlike our skin, must relent to outside influence.
It is even more harmonious, in a sense, to become formed by our surroundings rather than to become inured to its effects through defensive measures. It is like watching an incredibly subtle and eternal dance in which the dancers all adapt to the moves of the others until everyone is moving together, indiscernible from each other. Pieces just begin to fit, they lock together and shift in size and form as the pieces of others change in size and form. Promontories slide into crevices, crevices envelop promontories, fluids fill vessels and blood flows through it all, uninterrupted by cuts, bruises, or burns.
The mind is singularly unique, though; the mind has a propensity for simultaneous adaptation and defensive posturing. The mind can change the very way it operates to accommodate a change in stimuli, or it can wall off entire years, relegating them to the mental recycle bin, removing them from the index and rendering them nearly impossible to recall. It can learn to be happy again after extreme trauma while also excising memories with near-surgical effectiveness from any and every hidden page. The mind survives, but it does so by looking forward.
There are things, though, that confuse a mind’s ability to adapt while undermining even its most arduous attempts to build defenses. When something so horrific happens that the mind cannot rationalize or understand or empathize, it must forget. When it cannot forget, then the damage really begins. The erosion of mind follows. There we see the eternal dance is actually finite. There is not always matter to fill every void.
Under the constant and unrelenting assault of the news, for instance, the mind might be fortunate enough to grow numb and detached. It might be fortunate enough to array itself into a series of compartments into which each experience is characterized and sorted neatly away, never to interfere in an unwelcome way during normal and routine operations.
Or, if it is particularly susceptible or sensitive to the suffering of others, these empirical inputs might yet hover as echoing thoughts reverberating right behind your eyelids. Before they can be excised from the long-term memory production process, these experiences are compounded and multiplied over time, they move from a steady drip-dripping, to a trickling stream, to a river, canalizing the lobes of the brain into a network of painful waterways navigated by boats unmoored, adrift, and at the will of the currents.
This mind is less a mind and more a stone, it is elemental, moving with memories in a subtle and eternal dance during which all dancers lose their individual form and melt into one. This mind turns into a soup of pain and horror. This mind, once numb to the rain, dissolves in a solution of school shootings, sex crimes, murdered and abandoned children, tales of animal abuse, debates over whether or not we should protect the unborn, and a sick but enduring fascination with pop culture in the face of it all.
This mind just cannot understand genocide. It cannot grasp civil war or rape. It cannot comprehend seeing infants as sex objects, or rationalize their sale as merely a transaction where the supply of innocent flesh fills demand. When confronted by these things, this mind does not become inured to their impacts, it is too supple and pliable. This mind cannot compartmentalize these events; they are too horrific to be simply forgotten or discarded. This mind cannot take these things and learn to adapt to them, to function as if all is right and okay. No. This mind turns. This mind becomes enraged, it becomes hurt, it becomes driven by a need to fix.
This mental state has no equilibrium, it has no dance partner. There is nothing to which to return while the subject matter is still growing, offsetting the balance and denying any foothold for a flailing mind to rest and take stock. What are your options when you cannot grow callous, when you cannot join in the dance, when you cannot find a stable form?
That question is not rhetorical. What do you do?
Photo credit to Alamy Live News, sourced from THIS PAGE