Saturday, December 08, 2007

The one, true variable

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
- Winston Churchill

Sometimes it takes a long time to suss things out for me. Sometimes I have to see the same principle applied in several different contexts for me to see exactly what's going on. It would be nice if, at the very least, my knowing this about myself gives me some kind of leg up on the rest of the world, but I'm not optimistic. There was a lesson four years removed that I still hadn't fully understood. And I only got it fully for the first time last week on the subway...


I was on my way home from work, unable to catch some sleep, my mind whirling. I was looking around me at the faces of the other patrons. Some read, some stood. Some sat, some slept. The thing with me is, I would have made a great empath. It is very difficult for me to see someone, that is to say, look at someone, friend or enemy, family or stranger, and not wonder what they wonder about. I can't help wondering what other people think about. That old man in the corner, with his bag on the seat while other standing passengers surreptitiously give him dirty looks. Is he remembering his wife, now dearly departed? Is he lamenting about the tragic mediocrity of his life? Does he long for days past or is he trapped in thoughts of more immediate concerns? Has his life been everything he wanted it to be?

I was thinking about what other people were thinking about, and then I wondered, what do I think about? And shortly after asking myself, I was at the dojo. I could see the light streaming in through the window, the parkay floor. I think about Karate. About moving and touching people. I was fighting this blue belt, tall fellow, rocker vibe to him, in fact - yes, he does remind me of a taller version of Mark Matusoff. We were about to spar, I could hear the stomping of the other students as they went at it. I could almost hear their blood pumping, the testosterone and adrenaline was like an airborne bacteria, infecting everyone. I bowed to my opponent, "O negai shimasu", and brought my hands up. He did likewise but there was something different about the way he did it. Something I couldn't put my finger on. We circled for a couple seconds, I was judging his reach, the distance, his footwork. And without warning I went for him.


Rosalia had gone to some concert. I was desperate to hear from her. I called her on her cell and she answered. I asked her how it went, if she enjoyed herself. She sounded reserved. Then suddenly, she asked to see me, tomorrow at Hart House. I kept the joy out of my voice when I said sure, but I still don't remember how. I didn't sleep that night.


The distance was closing, he loomed larger and larger and then...he started getting smaller. And I took another step towards him, following his retreat, and he still got smaller. And I took another step, trying to get the range. And still he retreated. And then I realized what it was that I saw in his eyes as he brought his glove up. It was panic, and I hadn't seen it at the dojo in such a long time, I'd forgotten what it looked like. He was terrified of me. It wasn't just that he'd flinch when I'd make a step towards him. He'd propel his whole body backwards, irrespective of what might be behind him. After crashing into the endboard and a couple of other students, he adopted this rather inspiring rhythmic motion of running backwards while swiveling his neck back for a quick glance at what was behind him, and then swiveling back to see how close I was again. I tried to explain to him all the reasons why what he was doing didn't make any sense. That he was taller than me, bigger than me, with greater reach. That Karate is about standing your ground, and if you felt the need to run from someone, you should just turn and run rather than trying to face them and run at the same time. That the best defense is a good offense and if you really did want to stop someone from hitting you at some point you have to make them stop thinking about hitting you and more concerned about their getting hit themselves. It all made sense to him. But the moment I went for a jab, he'd just take off. It was very unsatisfying trying to spar with someone who wouldn't.


She was sitting at one of the tables outside, her feet propped up on one of the chairs. She looked ... long and .... lovely. In a perfect world, I could sneak up behind her chair, look down at her from above and kiss those lips upside down, and her lips would turn into a smile beneath mine. In a perfect world...

I took the seat opposite to her and tried my best to seem unimpressed. I felt as though I was failing but what can you do? She said a cursory hello, didn't face me. She usually had trouble facing me when she talked but this was different. Other times she'd keep from looking me in the eyes because she didn't want to see what she'd find there, now it felt as though she didn't want me to see something in hers. Something was about to happen, I realized.

She said she understood what was going on. That I felt a certain way for her. She asked me if she was right. I was afraid - in a panic, to be accurate. But I said yes. That I didn't mean to come on so strong. That she was a good friend to me but I don't think about her all the time just because she's a friend.

She seemed rather unperturbed by my declaration, which at the time seemed profound and life-changing to me. And she said quite simply to stop. Stop loving me, stop caring about me that way. Do it now. She said she was serious and she said that she was certain it would never happen between us. She stressed the word 'never'.

I was devastated. I don't like using that word, it seems very biblical, and getting your heartbroken isn't a biblical event, but it was definitely a moment in which my heartbeat was faltering because of something that I was hearing. So that doesn't happen every day. I was so different back then, so unsure of everything. I remember thinking, is she sure? Maybe she's just a little scared, maybe I should...? But she said she was certain. She said to stop. She said 'never'. So I let the desolation start to kick in.

She said she was sorry about being so harsh. She said she knew she was being a bitch about it, but she'd done this before in a way in which the message wasn't received and that I should be grateful that she had enough faith in our friendship to tell me the truth. She also said that she knew nothing she was saying had any basis in reason. That even she appreciates the fact that I would make a good husband one day but that doesn't make a lick of difference as to how she felt.

It all made dismal sense to me. There wasn't even the smallest spark of love for me in her. I thought that I'd been careful, not feeding the flame too much, protecting it from sudden gusts of wind. The truth was, it hadn't even gotten started. She said she hoped we could still be friends, and I said sure. That I wouldn't let a little thing like her ripping my heart out change that. Of course that didn't work, and now years later, this woman that I cared for so deeply could be anywhere doing anything....


Epiphany, subway riders, I had an epiphany! Wake up everyone, I wanted to tell them coming out of my reverie, I got it. I figured out the lesson I was supposed to learn. The lesson that I was supposed to learn from Rowena, standing on that subway platform at Eglinton as the train pulled away, her in tears. The lesson I was supposed to apply that day with Rosalia a year later. The lesson that I finally learned from that blue belt 4 years later at karate....

It doesn't matter if someone has a reach advantage on you. And it doesn't matter if they're taller. It doesn't matter if they're bigger. It doesn't matter if they're faster. Likewise, if you want a woman, it doesn't matter if you're a good man. It doesn't matter if you're smart. It doesn't matter if your funny. It doesn't matter if your handsome, it doesn't matter if your charming. There are charming men sitting at home alone. They're are handsome men who go to sleep by themselves. There are funny men who are never heard from. There are smart men, like myself, doing next to nothing with their life. There are good men alone in a world where women are always asking where all the good men are.

You could be in a fight against someone who has shorter arms than you, who is smaller than you, shorter than you, slower than you, and you can still lose. Because it doesn't matter what the specific qualities of a person may be, one quality stands out as allowing us to make the most of all the others. Courage. Courage is the X-factor. Courage is the only real variable. Courage allows funny people to be funny. Courage allows smart people to be recognized as smart. Courage allows handsome people to take advantage of how they look. Courage allows good men to hold on to good women.

A blue belt with reach, height and size on me has no chance against me. A blue belt with reach, height, size and courage - it becomes a 50/50 toss up. Kamil Devonish, good, smart man, who will one day make a good husband let the woman of his dreams slip on by. Kamil Devonish, good, smart man, who will one day make a good husband with courage would have said the following:

Rosie, I understand that I'm kinda painting you into a corner. But I'm in love with you. I don't think about you every moment of the day because I want to. And if its not my choice to love you its not going to be my choice to let you go either. I'm going to risk making an ass out of myself here. Because... well... do you want me to say it again? And maybe it will all be for nothing. Maybe you're right and it will never happen. But maybe, just maybe, the act of pursuing you will impress myself upon you. Who knows? Either way, I'm up for a good fight.

How could saying that have made things any worse than the absolute and total absence of communication between us right now? Was she really certain or did she just need some convincing? Was she trying to feel me out, judging my footwork, the distance, my range, a jab here, a cross there, only to find out that her opponent really wasn't up to the challenge? If so, then, I understand now Rosie. I understand now how very unsatisfying it is trying to spar with someone who wouldn't. We should all be up for a good fight from time to time. That requires courage. It's taken me forever to figure this out. Why didn't someone just tell me a long time ago?