“Passion, it lies in all of us, sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted… unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us… passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion maybe we’d know some kind of peace… but we would be hollow… Empty rooms shuttered and dank. Without passion we’d be truly dead.”
Once I began a new dating relationship in my late teens. When I told a female friend about it she said: “But is she passionate? Because you are.” I had never really given much thought to the concept, but it did feel like an attribution I could own.
I’ve struggled to understand the role of passion in our lives, the positive and negative aspects. Recently, I came across a small online comic that Gretchen Rubin, who I admire and like greatly, commissioned to illustrate her quest to find a passion. Everyone she knew seemed to be passionate about something but she could find no such thing in her life. In the end, she realized that her passion was books and learning, that it had been so obvious that she took it for granted, and coming to an end of her quest meant the reinforcement of two of her secrets of adulthood: “What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you–and vice-versa.” and “Be Gretchen.”
For some of us, finding passion has never been the problem. Instead, speaking for myself, the challenge has been to funnel the enormous well of passion into a productive and manageable stream. In particular, I’ve noticed two issues:
1) I often find it difficult to limit myself and focus on a few things that I can actually master. It isn’t practical to tackle learning Spanish, piano, computer programming, auto repair, classical music, contemporary literature, and more, all at the same time. Thus, I find myself to this day with knowledge that is a mile wide and an inch deep. While this puts me in good stead for trivia contests at bars, it can be disruptive to inner peace.
2) Perhaps the more serious problem is in understanding the more detached personality type. I think passionate people can become frustrated in dealing with someone who is dispassionate, perhaps experiencing him or her as uncaring or lacking in compassion.
I would be the first to admit that I can get carried away in my experience of the world. Probably the archetypal moment was once, when we were visiting Ayr Mount, an old plantation house, I found myself saying “That’s the best tree ever!”, to which my daughters laughed uncontrollably. Yes, a little carried away. I find myself tearing up at television commercials, songs, and sometimes even while listening to audiobooks at the gym.
Such emotions can no doubt be a little frightening, especially if you do not know someone well. As we get older, we learn to trust ourselves more and we know that we won’t spin wildly out of control, but that may not be apparent to all.
We all represent a continuum ranging from, say, wild-eyed nuttiness on one end to stone-like stoicism on the other. Most of us are thankfully much closer to the middle. But I like to think that our passions are what make us get up much earlier than most people to carry out something that we love. They make a bird watcher wait in quiet stillness for hours to catch a brief glimpse of a rare creature. Passion brings us to re-read for the fourth time a book that we love.
I’ve certainly had my share of heartbreaks, embarrassments, monetary splurges, and ill-advised decisions which derived from a moment of passion. But, as Friedrich Hebbel said, ““Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” Ultimately, passions are the nectar that nourishes the overachiever in us.