“Beware of passion, Hester. It always leads to something ugly.”
“What would you replace it with?”
“A guarded enthusiasm…. It’s safer.”
“And much duller.”
So goes the tense dinner exchange between Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz, currently enjoying Oscar buzz for her performance) and her mother-in-law (the guardedly enthusiastic one — though unguardedly dour — played by Barbara Jefford) in the 2011 film adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 adultery-themed play The Deep Blue Sea, which is a little like Take This Waltz set in 1950 London instead of modern-day Toronto.
I understand Mother Collyer’s fear of giving in and letting go. Passion may be vibrant and thrilling, making you feel as if you’re really alive, but it can be dangerous, too. It can cause you to act completely out of character, crazy in love, lust or hate, violently happy, sad, angry or mad. Enthusiasm is safer. It’s so much easier to recover from enthusiasm.
But sound as Mother Collyer’s reasoning might be, I wouldn’t dream of encouraging such stereotypical British uptightness. I share Hester’s distaste for sports and her tendency to feel everything, truly, madly, deeply. I raise my voice, I gesticulate wildly, I laugh uncontrollably. Cackling like a hyena, head flung back, mouth wide open, might be ugly, but it feels a lot better than the prettier alternative: a smirk and a giggle. What’s life without a little messy? That’s how you know you’re living it, which is the excellent point Meryl Streep made to Uma Thurman in the movie Prime.
What’s life without danger and risk, extreme highs and lows that can lead to something ugly — like attempted suicide, Hester’s fate — but can also lead to something beautiful that makes us feel more alive than we ever thought possible? Lose your heart, lose your head, lose control. Just lose something.
Pain is an unavoidable fact of life. It’s better to deal with it when it shows up than to make a preemptive strike to banish it from your existence completely. Last night I was speaking to a couple that lives a few floors down from me, and we were commiserating about an affliction I share with both husband and wife: chronic migraine headaches, which, for all of us, seem to be worse in Bangkok than anywhere else. (We all blamed the intense heat and inner-city pollution.) I told them about the doctor in Buenos Aires who once prescribed for me an anti-depressant as a preventative measure against my headaches. I took them for one week, during which I didn’t have a single pain in the head.
The problem was I didn’t feel much of anything anywhere else. I missed my passion of mind, my ups and downs, my sex drive, which for many of us, is the center of passion. (Would you prefer a lover who is passionate or one who is guardedly optimistic, which is much easier to fake?) I felt like the walking dead, haunting the streets, haunting my own soul. If those pills were making me feel so depressed, I couldn’t imagine what they must do to the clinically depressed.
I flushed them down the toilet and returned to my regularly scheduled headache. Though it hurt like hell, l liked knowing that I’d still feel everything — the bad and the good — as passionately as ever when the pain pain went away. I knew it would come again some other day, but I’d rather live with a 50 percent chance of pain in my head if it means I get to feel 100 percent of everything else.