Beneath My Feet and above My Head

My plane of existence is very much horizontal. I spend a lot more time thinking about what’s in front of me and behind me and, if I’m really feeling wild, to either side of me, than I do thinking about what’s beneath my feet or above my head.

Yes, I do gaze at the stars, but that’s only at night. And I do love a good cloud formation. But for the most part, I take these things for granted. I wonder how many shooting stars I haven’t seen, simply for lack of looking up.

I also wonder how many caves I’ve walked over without knowing it. How many innocent bugs have been crushed beneath my feet? How many moles have stuck their blind little heads out, sensed me, and beat a hasty retreat? How many unmarked graves have I trod upon?

I’ve certainly tripped and/or bumped my head often enough to where you’d think I’d have learned my lesson. Situational awareness is much more important than my actions would have you believe. I could be hit by a meteor far more easily than I could be run down by a crosstown bus. I totally get how someone might fall down a manhole.

Here I am, living in a three dimensional world, opening drawbridges for a living, and yet I still somehow manage to neglect the ups and the downs of my life. I wonder why. I’d almost rather think of myself as a total flake than to give in to the concept that my eyes face forward and therefore that’s the direction I usually look.


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What’s Your Orientation?

Don’t get excited. I’m not asking you about your sexual orientation. Not only is that none of my business, but I really couldn’t care less. You be you.

No, I’m talking about… what should I call it? Your compass orientation. How you visualize yourself in the world.

The reason I’m thinking about this is because my husband and I have a difference of opinion as to how a GPS should be set up. He likes his maps pointing ever northward, regardless of which direction he is going. I, on the other hand, greatly prefer to have my maps move with me as I move. I’m way too dyslexic to have to figure out if that turn is a left or a right based on where the sun is sitting in the sky. Show me, for heaven’s sake, which way to turn from where I’m facing right this minute. Otherwise I’m completely lost.

Recently I heard a story on NPR about how certain languages are compass oriented, and others, like English, are not. We describe things as being to our left or right, or in front of us or behind us. But it seems that some languages describe things as being to the North, South, East, or West. It doesn’t matter which way that person is facing when they have their discussion. They say, “You left your keys on the table to the north of you.” If plopped down in that culture, it would take me an awfully long time to find my keys. But I’m sure that if you’re born into it, that’s the norm.

The way I imagine it is that some people’s consciousness is inside their head, looking out of their eyes. That’s how I see the world. It’s faced in whatever direction I am faced in. But other people must have their consciousness floating slightly above themselves, and always oriented to the compass, as their body turns beneath them. I can’t relate to that at all. Not at all.

I wonder which is more common. What’s your orientation?

Vintage COmpass by hourglassthorne on DeviantArt

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On the Brink of Monumental Change

I have always been fascinated with that split second in time when one’s life becomes completely different. Everyone has experienced this. The death or birth of a loved one. A job offer that changes your career path and/or drastically improves your financial situation. A medical diagnosis. An epiphany. A marriage proposal, a divorce request, an acceptance or a rejection letter. A tragedy or a triumph.

Most of the time these exact moments are unanticipated, but after the fact you can look at them and realize that that was the point when your path veered off in a different direction. The sharp, tiny little pivotal point.

If there were a way to study and measure those points, would we find that they possess an increased amount of psychic or spiritual or kinetic energy on a subatomic level? I’m sure there’s an adrenaline surge. No doubt the heart rate increases. One is definitely spurred to take action, or is left stunned and unable to function.

I’m convinced that in those moments, there’s something there that wasn’t there before. I’ve felt it. Some would posit that it is the presence of God. Others might call it fate or chance or dumb luck. I have no idea, but I think that those answers are too easy. They are what we resort to when we can’t adequately explain things.

I just wonder if there’s an actual, physical… something that happens. I wonder if we’ll ever be scientifically sophisticated enough to find out. And if we do, will we be able to accept what we discover? Because as it stands now, I believe that that moment of being on the brink of monumental change is where science and religion intersect, and that, perhaps, is the most powerful moment in life.

[Image credit:]
[Image credit:]

Contemplating Suicide? What I’d Say to a Jumper

Recently someone I love very much told me that she had attempted suicide a couple of times in the past year. This broke my heart because I had no idea she was suffering in silence. Having struggled with depression my whole life, I know what it’s like to want to throw off that thick blanket of despair, and I know that sometimes it seems like there is only one irreversible way to do so. But that’s the thing. Once you’ve made that choice, you can never make any other choices, ever. How can you be sure there aren’t better times just around the corner?

I can also speak with a little bit of authority on this subject because as a bridgetender I cross paths with people attempting suicide several times a year. I’ve never actually spoken to one of these people. Either the police rescue them before they jump or they make good on their attempt.

I’ve often thought about what I’d say if I came upon a jumper on my bridge and no one else was there. I’m not trained in any way so I’m probably the last person that should be thrust into that situation, and I’d avoid it if I could, but if I had no other choice, what would I do to try to convince them not to take that last irreversible step?

First I’d introduce myself and ask for his or her name. Then I would say, “I don’t know why you’re here, and I don’t know why you want to jump. I’m sure you have your reasons, and they’re none of my business. But I’d like to tell you that this is probably the most important conversation I’ve ever had in my life, because I think you are important in this world. I think you have value. I really believe that every day you impact and influence people and you probably don’t even realize it. Some day, a month, a year, a decade from now, someone will cross your path who will need your influence. If you’re not there to do so, that person may never have the future he or she deserves.”

“I also think that things can change on a dime. You never know what tomorrow will bring. But if you jump, you’ll never get to find out. One thing tomorrow can bring for you is help. Someone to talk to. People who will take you seriously. And they are out there. I promise. We’ll make sure you get a chance to talk to those people, if only you stick around to do so.

“The fact that you’re still listening to me means that you are having second thoughts. That’s good. That means you still have choices. You can still not jump, and then you have a whole world of possibilities. I can tell you this. Every single jumper, without exception, screams on the way down. That means they regret their decision the minute they step into thin air. But by then it’s too late. And that sentiment has been universally confirmed by the rare people who survive jumping off a bridge. They say they wish they had never done it. Can you imagine that feeling of terror? Wanting desperately to take something back but not being able to do so? Would you want that to be the last feeling you have? I don’t want that for you.

“I can also tell you that it’s not as easy a way to go as you might think. See that concrete and wooden fender system down there? I’ve heard jumpers hit that thing, and you can hear their bones break all the way up here. That sound will haunt me for the rest of my life, and now that I know your name, it would be even worse. But even if you miss the fender system it’s bad. Your organs are lighter than your skeleton, so when you hit the water, your skeleton rushes past your organs, forcing them all to move up into your chest cavity. I can’t imagine that type of pain. It’s a horrible, horrible way to go.

“I don’t have all the answers. In fact, my life is pretty messed up. But I really do believe there’s more out there for you than this. You wouldn’t be feeling so hurt or scared or depressed or angry about your situation if you didn’t believe you deserved more, too. Don’t take away your chance to find out what’s out there. Right now you can go in any direction you want. Left, right, forward, backward, up or down. If you jump, all you’ll be left with is down. If you feel like you have no hope now, imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve only got one direction left to go.”

I don’t know. Maybe that would be the wrong thing to say to a jumper. Maybe it would do no good. But that’s what I’d want to say.

looking down

Kayak Angst

While on vacation I read a book (Packing for Mars by Mary Roach—I highly recommend it) that mentioned a very interesting syndrome called Kayak Angst. I’d never heard of it before (and can’t imagine why I would have, being the land-based mammal that I tend to be), so I decided to read up on it.

It turns out it’s a type of panic disorder that’s been found mostly amongst the Inuit of Greenland.

Imagine this: You’re sitting in a kayak, all alone, in calm seas. There’s no land in sight, and the grey sky is reflected in the glassy water. Suddenly you feel like your kayak is tipping up or dropping down, and you’re convinced you are going to drown. You feel utterly lost, can’t figure out which direction is north or south or east or west. In a nutshell, you completely freak out. Your brain has absolutely no frame of reference. For all you know you could be floating in mid air, and there’s no one, I mean NO ONE for miles around to help you.

I cannot imagine a more hellish type of panic attack than that. Not only are you having a panic attack, but if you’re not careful while feeling like you’re going to die, you really could die. It’s kind of like a perpetual motion machine of anxiety.

Apparently a symptom of this disorder is a tendency to avoid kayaks. Well, duh. Wouldn’t you, after experiencing that? That’s not disorder, that’s freakin’ logic, if you ask me.

The problem in this situation, of course, is that as an Inuit in Greenland, that avoidance means you’ve just cut off one of your main sources of food for your family, so there’s a whole other level of anxiety piled on. For the love of God, where does it end?

I’ve been experiencing a figurative form of kayak angst for about a year now. I have no idea where to go or what to do. I feel as though I have no frame of reference to draw upon, and there’s no end in sight. Maybe I need to splash the water with my oar so I can figure out what’s up and what’s down.

Hopefully I’ll see land soon, ’cause it’s freakin’ cold out here.