Learning from David Sedaris's Sister

I’ve been burning through quite a few audiobooks these days, finding them a pretty entertaining and productive way to use up time in the car. This past week, I was listening (and cracking up) to David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimSo when I happened upon an interview with him this week in Vice from a couple of months back, I immediately clicked the story. Both the interviewer and Sedaris lost siblings to suicide, and the interview examines that shared experience. Sedaris’s youngest sister, Tiffany, who suffered from bipolar disorder, killed herself in May 2013. When Bailey asks Sedaris, who is one of six, if Tiffany was “the difficult one even when she was small,” Sedaris responds that yes, she was. He says, “While the rest of us had eyes in the front of our heads, she had eyes on the sides, like a rabbit or a deer, like prey, always on the lookout for danger.” His description left me with a compelling mental image, one of a woman with eyes on the side of her head and maybe a pair of antlers or a set of rabbit ears. This woman, this prey animal, she was me.
For as long as I can remember, even as a child, I could (and still can) take the temperature of most any room in a split second. In many ways, I made it my job to read rooms and to read people, to understand more about people by what they weren’t saying than by what they were. By keeping my eyes scanning, scanning, always scanning, I was collecting information about the environment surrounding me, and adjusting myself up or down accordingly. It’s a skill I’m grateful for and one that has served me well. It’s allowed me to make friends easily, navigate new or different social situations with relative ease, make smart business decisions, avoid danger, be a better writer, nurture compassion and empathy, and so on. But I’ve also used it to keep people at a distance and to maintain control of the safeguards I have in place, the walls that keep me from getting hurt but might also keep me from experiencing greater love and joy. It’s a skill I have, for all intents and purposes, mastered, and now I’m unsure if it still serves me (or should) in all the ways it used to. There’s a strong urge to cling to it; it’s what I know, it’s what I’m good at. But what if I can achieve an even more profound effect by doing things a different way? I’m not sure yet I know what that could look like. Right now, the desire to hold onto something old and comfortable feels at once both suffocating and extremely cozy. What would it look like to be less deer, less rabbit, and more Kate? What would it look like to keep my eyes and my feet always pointing in the same direction? Not like a horse with blinders, but like a human content in the place that she is.
I find myself these days (I think) wanting less and less to rise or fall to meet the needs of a room, to put so much work into absorbing or resisting, to pushing or pulling. What I want is to listen more deeply, sit more quietly, and bring my eyes back around to the front, to the place where life is actually happening.