Some years ago I was hiking out of the Grand Canyon with some friends. We left late at night and hiked in the dark to avoid the heat. It had been raining, there had been lightning storms and I was basically sick and tired of the elements trying to kill me. Suddenly, there was the sound you don’t want to hear when you’re hiking up a slot canyon: rushing water.
We all realized what that meant at the same time, and scrabbled for higher ground before the flash flood came down on top of us. I had been hurting, worried, tired, but at that moment I was just flat out scared. Everything else was lost as I tried to get out of the way.1
When my wife and I were first dating, I scheduled a little trip for us up to Boise, where I was secretly planning to propose. The day before we left, she called me up.
“I’m thinking that, when we’re in Boise, You’re going to ask me to marry you.” She said. “And I’m thinking I’ll say yes.”
I nearly fell over, my joy was overwhelming. The fact that my little proposal was now somewhat less than a formality was not important, what was important is that she was willing to spend her life with me.
So here’s the point. I’m no longer afraid of that flash flood. I still feel the joy I felt in that moment when my wife agreed to become my wife, but now it’s a low, warm, permanent glow, instead of an explosion. But there’s one emotion that seems to stay as strong as the moment it happened: Embarrassment.
That time I … nope, not even on a blog that I know for a fact nobody reads, I can’t say it. That time I embarrassed myself back in high school still stings, still hits me like a hammer when I think of it, even though it’s been well over a decade since it happened.
Why is this? Joy, anger, fear, happiness, they all fade after a while. More basic feelings like hunger, exhaustion, and pain pretty much go away when the biological trigger is removed. Why doesn’t embarrassment? Is there some biological imperative that we keep being almost physically hurt by things that, in the final analysis, didn’t actually damage us?
I don’t have a real thesis for this one; I’m just wondering. If you happen across this article and have an opinion I’d love to hear it. Maybe someone even knows how to get rid of the feeling.
Or maybe everyone else already knows the secret and I’m the only one still in the dark. That would be embarrassing.
- For the record, the flash flood ended up being about six inches deep. But that’s not the point. [↩]