All the Feelings

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

I live in Florida.

For the last 100 years, the Tampa Bay area has been lucky with hurricanes never hitting us directly.

I learned last week that’s a very good thing because, due to storm surge, Tampa Bay is the most dangerous place in the country for a direct hit.

Hurricane Ian was supposed to hit Tampa head on, maybe as a category three or even four.

I didn’t evacuate. I got ready as one does if you’ve lived in Florida long enough: water, batteries, pantry food, pet supplies, flashlights, and hope.

The problem with the hope is that hoping a hurricane won’t hit directly means hoping it will hit someone else.

It did.

I used to vacation in Sanibel. I was at a conference in Fort Myers in February.

I’m feeling all of the feelings.

I feel grateful that Tampa wasn’t hit directly because my home is still standing and I’m safe.

I feel guilty for feeling gratitude when so many people are suffering just south of me.

I feel compassion for all of those people.

I feel anxiety because eventually our luck will run out in Tampa.

I feel anger that we’re not doing more about climate change.

I feel disappointed because I was supposed to travel to Victoria, British Columbia to give a talk at the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting, a huge honor, one that I could not believe was happening, but I couldn’t get a flight out because of Ian.

I feel frustrated that I worked so hard on a presentation that I will never give.

I feel disheartened that after six long years of absence I don’t get to see my very dear friend who lives on the west coast and was to join me at the conference.

I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work to do.

I feel sad, a little depressed, relieved, and regretful.

Cho Chang and Hermione Granger would understand.

When Harry Potter and Cho kiss for the first time in Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, Harry tells his pals Ron and Hermione shortly after, explaining with puzzlement that Cho cried. Both he and Ron are baffled, but Hermione explains.

“Well, obviously, she’s feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she’s feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can’t work out who she likes best. Then she’ll be feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she’ll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry.”

Hermione goes on from there greeted at the end with “a slightly stunned silence” and Ron replying, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”

Hermione responds, “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”

She’s right, and I’m glad I’m not a teaspoon.

However, I’m tired from feeling so many conflicting feelings.

Now I feel worry that you’ll judge me for complaining.

The deal is we have all of these feelings inside of us, and if we don’t feel them, they control us.

While Zen Buddhism is sometimes misunderstood as lacking feeling, a sort of stoicism, the actual approach is to feel deeply in the moment, greeting each feeling as an old friend — whether pleasant or not — so that we are in touch with our feelings.

If we don’t do this, we waste a lot of energy trying to deny feelings rather than engaging with them.

I feel exhausted. Maybe I’m denying some feelings, or maybe it takes a lot of energy to engage in each of these many feelings that I currently have.

All I know is that thanks to feeling as a human, not a teaspoon, I have empathy, and this motivates me to want to help those south of me as I can.

Perhaps we all could give a little and with feeling. Here are vetted ways to do so.

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Kathryn Duncan

Kathryn Duncan is an English professor and author of the book Jane Austen and the Buddha: Teachers of Enlightenment.