Rapture Among Strangers

Recently, I’ve been feeling misaligned, like a well-built car that begins drifting three degrees to the left. My engine light is off, the Bluetooth is running smoothly, and a recently detailing highlights every perfection. Yet, there is a subtle rumbling every morning when I start my day. Something feels off.

I have been noticing a growing sense of discontent, the slightest of sensations, like the failing lumbar support of the driver’s seat on a 13-hour trip. This unhappiness is especially tricky because it seems unjustified, unworthy of a second thought.

I have the pleasure of waking up next to my soul mate every morning. I’m close with my family and have amazing friends. I have a great job, impressive title, and more income than I know what to do with. I spend my two-hour commute time listening to podcasts, learning. I feel healthy, I feel safe, and I feel hopeful. Life is, objectively, good.

Yet, I feel unfulfilled, as if some integral part of me is missing. Perhaps my values and actions are misaligned, or maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself to move in a particular unspecified direction. I feel as if I’m drifting.

I think the root cause of my discontent is my job. The work was once extremely challenging, pushing me to think and strategize in new ways, and my former boss was a strong leader who taught me new ways to approach project management and excel in my role. Due to restructuring, my supervisor is distant and uninvolved; it has been months since I’ve been faced with an interesting challenge or large-scale project.

Last year, I was told that my position would be replaced by an algorithm within a year. That 12-month mark is fast-approaching and I feel unfazed. I’m ready for a change, for the opportunity to solve interesting, new problems and to make a difference–if not for the world, at least for an individual or organization.

There is a gross juxtaposition between my emotional state from eight-to-five and the time when I’m home. I wake up each morning and hold my boyfriend close, whispering “I love you, I love you, I love you…” I wake up early to meditate, journal, workout, and fix some eggs. My boyfriend drowsily kisses me goodbye, and I smile. When I arrive home, I go through a similar routine in reverse, falling asleep as I whisper, “I love you, I love you, I love you…”

This overwhelming sense of misalignment has left me thinking about a moving poem by Galaway Kinnell that captures a moment of spontaneous intimacy, as well as the discord between that passionate and the indifference of strangers.

Rapture by Galway Kinnell

I can feel she has got out of bed.
That means it is seven a.m.
I have been lying with eyes shut,
thinking, or possibly dreaming,
of how she might look if, at breakfast,
I spoke about the hidden place in her
which, to me, is like a soprano’s tremolo,
and right then, over toast and bramble jelly,
if such things are possible, she came.
I imagine she would show it while trying to conceal it.
I imagine her hair would fall about her face
and she would become apparently downcast,
as she does at a concert when she is moved.
The hypnopompic play passes, and I open my eyes
and there she is, next to the bed,
bending to a low drawer, picking over
various small smooth black, white,
and pink items of underwear. She bends
so low her back runs parallel to the earth,
but there is no sway in it, there is little burden, the day has hardly begun.
The two mounds of muscles for walking, leaping, lovemaking,
lift toward the east—what can I say?
Simile is useless; there is nothing like them on earth.
Her breasts fall full; the nipples
are deep pink in the glare shining up through the iron bars
of the gate under the earth where those who could not love
press, wanting to be born again.
I reach out and take her wrist
and she falls back into bed and at once starts unbuttoning my pajamas.
Later, when I open my eyes, there she is again,
rummaging in the same low drawer.
The clock shows eight. Hmmm.
With huge, silent effort of great,
mounded muscles the earth has been turning.
She takes a piece of silken cloth
from the drawer and stands up. Under the falls
of hair her face has become quiet and downcast,
as if she will be, all day among strangers,
looking down inside herself at our rapture.

I’ve loved this poem for years, yet it resonates on a different chord today. Rather than simply a sweet depiction of lust, love, and intimacy, the poem now reads as a story of retreat from from reality. In a subtle yet vivid way, it paints out the oscillation between, and contrast of, opening and of closing.

Rapture: an expression of passion, the manifestation of ecstasy, the state of being carried away by overwhelming emotion. Love and compassion have the power to pry open our hearts and let in the most trustworthy of lovers, friends, and kin. Our hair may fall around our face as we cast down our eyes, visiting and revising these sensations of love. Yet, the memory is merely that–a memory, of opening.

I wake each morning with an open heart, with a dream of eternal ecstasy. As I drive to work, my heart slowly clenches into a protective fist. By the time arrive to my desk, my face has become quiet and downcast, knowing that my day will be spent among strangers in a world where rapture is unwelcome.

So, I spend my day peeking through my tightly-held fingers, observing the beauty of my own personal rapture–forehead kisses and cotton candy sunsets–waiting to step out of my office door and release the clenching of my heart.

I hope that soon–very soon–the closing will cease. My wish is that one day, in the near future, I will find a job where I don’t need to shut off my emotions during the day. My hope is that my heart may remain ever-open to the small moments of rapture available to us throughout our days, and that I might–once more–feel well-aligned.

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