In the spring of 2009 I went to spend the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread in Santiago, Chile. The time did not go particularly well, for a variety of reasons. For one, the Passover was an exceptionally troubled one where the ordained leaders of the congregation sequestered themselves in a room apart from the lay brethren for the footwashing . For another, nearly every day I was in Santiago my nose would bleed for about ten or fifteen minutes after an invariably sleepless night. Suffice it to say, it wrecked havoc, enough so that when I returned from Chile it was one of three issues that drove me to an ENT for the first and (so far) only time in my life, who recommended in the future that it might be worthwhile to cauterize the vessels that sit so close to my right nostril and occasionally cause such havoc. For the moment, at least, I have not done so, but the idea remains at least a possibility.
I mention this only because for the last few days I have been dealing with nosebleeds. From time to time there will come a day or two where my nose bleeds for a bit as there are changes in temperature, air pressure, or humidity, especially at the interface between seasons. But this time feels a bit different than usual. For one, the nosebleeds have been of a variety of different kinds and have come at somewhat odd times. For example, as I was writing this entry I had a nosebleed that forced me to pause for a bit. Last night at dinner I had bloody flakes of skin bothering me as I ate, which made my napkin a particularly unpleasant one to deal with, I imagine. Then on Sunday morning as I was writing about my Sabbath , I had to pause to deal with a nosebleed. Of course, on the Sabbath my nose bled rather conspicuously, and for quite a while, while I was listening to the sermon in Hood River. And my nose had bled on Friday as well during the morning as I was doing my usual daily reports. Who knows how long this will continue. I must admit I do not enjoy going about my daily business never knowing when my nose is going to bleed.
I often ponder the upside of such matters. What is the upside of such a high degree of sensitivity? To be sure, this has to do with more than nosebleeds. All kinds of problems in life can result from a high degree of sensitivity. The world is not kind to those it views as vulnerable, and most of those who are particularly sensitive do their best to either shield that sensitivity behind a thin skin and at least give the appearance of being impassive and unresponsive or with aggression to strongly deter others from probing for weaknesses. But what is the good of sensitivity itself? It is one thing to be able to overcome something, but an entirely different matter to see the thing itself as good. To give but one example, I recently wrote a rather personally uncomfortable article on the upside of anxiety, and that is something related to this problem. Hypervigilance of the kind I possess comes from needing to be vigilant in a world that has been deeply and tragically unsafe. There are obviously going to be some repercussions to that.
Yet the more I think about it, the more I ponder that the good of sensitivity is to remind us what dangers exist in the world. When my nose bleed in Santiago, it was the poor air quality that caused me such problems. People like myself are a reminder of the need for communities to have and enforce good standards for air quality, even if many others are less sensitive to such problems than I am. Coal miners are reputed to have brought canaries into the mines with them because the canaries were sensitive enough to the carbon monoxide that their own struggles would save the lives of miners and give them the time to escape. I have in my own life served as such a canary literally when a lab partner and I showed ourselves to the most sensitive to a chemistry lab gone wrong where we were using propane torches in a room without sufficient ventilation. We live in a world where people need to see that things are wrong. It is only our recognition of what needs to be fixed that spurs us to do anything at all given our exhaustion and the hopelessness we have in the face of all that is wrong in this world around us. Sometimes a bloody nose is just what we need to remind us that something is wrong, even when we do not know exactly what that something is.
 See, for example: