It All Turns on a Dime

It had been a wonderful evening spent with my husband and a dear friend. Christmas lights, music, delightful conversation. Warm fuzzies all around.

Afterward we were driving my friend home. At least that was the plan. I was a snuggled down contentedly in the car, knowing my husband knew where he was going much better than I did. (I’m a bit geographically challenged at the best of times.)

We were in the midst of a surreal wind storm that had caused power outages all over town. The neighborhood we were in was pitch black, except for the headlights of cars. Everyone was being very cautious and taking turns. It was our turn. Really. It was.

And then, just like that, we were spinning around in an intersection. It all happened in slow motion. I remember thinking, “Oh. I’m spinning. I’ve never spun before.”

It’s funny where your mind goes in these situations.

The idiot, an arrogant 33 year old man fresh from a Christmas Party where he most likely indulged in too much holiday cheer, had blown right through the intersection. Luckily my husband saw what was about to happen and was able to accelerate enough so that the stupid punk hit the rear quarter panel, rather than hitting us broadside and most likely killing us all.

Then comes the standard stuff in these situations. Is everyone all right? Yes, considering. Neck and back discomfort. Nothing broken. No blood. The calling of the cops, who refuse to come out because there were no injuries, and we had managed to roll our car off the road. (If I had a dollar for every time a Seattle cop had refused to come when I called, I could retire now. I’m not impressed. If you live in this town, you’re on your freakin’ own.)

The arrogant punk said he wasn’t speeding. It took everything in me not to launch myself at his throat. Dude, you spun our car around. In an unlit intersection, where every other car was stopped. “Oh, was the power out?” Jesus. Seriously?

And then, as further proof that this was not his first rodeo, he said, “I’m not going to admit to any fault.” You learn to say that at driver’s school, and you usually only go there if you’re trying to avoid points on your license. Thank goodness a witness came forward.

The exchange of information. The calling of a tow truck. The calling of the insurance agency. The calling in sick to work the next day. The gradual realization that our car is most likely toast. The nausea from the adrenaline dump. Fighting the desire to cry so as not to freak out one’s spouse. Getting home 4 hours later than you originally intended. Feeling changed.

I was afraid to go to bed. I figured I had whiplash, and I was going to wake up in agony, and that pain would be with me for weeks, maybe months. Finally, at 2 am, I had no choice.

Lying there, waiting for sleep to take us, we engaged in the useless game of what ifs. What if we had taken another route, as suggested? What if I hadn’t asked for that detour to take pictures of the Lenin Statue, all decked out for the holidays? What if our passenger hadn’t put on her seatbelt? What if her son, one of my favorite kids in the entire world, had been in the car with us? Worst of all, what if my husband hadn’t had the presence of mind to accelerate, and the car had hit him directly in the shoulder and he had been killed, when we’ve only been married for three months? That is how my luck tends to run…

I’ve written about this before, how everything can change in an instant. It was all so surreal. It still is. If we humans kept the fact that the world is entirely arbitrary in the forefront of our minds, I don’t think any one of us could remain sane for long. The sands of life are just a little too shifty to allow us to remain upright.

So it’s official. My song for the season is, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth… to Remain in My Head as We Spin Out in This Intersection.”

Update: No injuries on our side, and our car was, indeed, totalled. I hope the little punk’s d*** fell off, but at the very least I can comfort myself with the fact that his insurance rates will rise.

 

Lenin
If I hadn’t asked that we stop and take this picture of Lenin, bedecked in a Christmas halo, with blood on his hands, we wouldn’t have been in that intersection at that moment in time. Lenin. The gift that keeps on giving.

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Making Plans

When you make plans for the future, you’re demonstrating a delightful amount of optimism. Because life is fragile. It can pop like a soap bubble at any time. I’ve seen that happen more than once.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

Sorry, John. You know I love you. But I disagree. I think life is making plans. The alternative, making no plans at all, or sitting back and letting the world kind of wash over you, is a form of death.

We are not meant to live like moss on a tree. The fact that we feel the need for religion shows that we struggle with accepting fate. I don’t think we are meant to be so accepting. We are meant to be the architects of our own lives.

Plans give you purpose. Purpose is what makes life worth living. I find the best antidote for depression is having something to look forward to.

Even more evidence of optimism is making plans with someone. It says, “We’re in this for the long haul.” “I have great expectations for us.” “You are the person I want to spend time with.” “I have faith in our relationship.”

The only thing I can think of that’s better than anticipating your future is anticipating your future while holding someone’s hand.

planning-for-future

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A Random Story

Sometimes when I can’t think of anything to write, I’ll rely on the Random Word Generator for inspiration. That made me wonder if there was a Random Image Generator. Yay! There is! So today I decided to get a random image and then write about it. What follows is the story I came up with about this picture:

fruit-stall

To the casual observer, Gianni may have looked exhausted. This would have been a reasonable assumption, too, because he had to go to the produce wholesaler every morning at 4 a.m. in order to get the best fruit and vegetables for his stall. And for Gianni, nothing but the best would do.

That “nothing but the best” concept was rather new to him. A year ago he was running the streets with no real purpose or goal. The only consistent routine in his life was stopping by to visit his grandfather at this very stall, just as he had done every day since he was old enough to walk.

His grandfather was larger than life. He never took a day off, and yet he was always smiling. Oh, and how he loved his grandson! When he spied a younger Gianni running across the piazza, he would throw his arms wide and embrace him roughly, as if he hadn’t seen him in years.

Gianni would help himself to an apple or an orange and listen to Nonno talk about his day, and recount what was happening in the neighborhood. Mrs. Rossi was going to have another baby. The Conti’s daughter was going to be a doctor. The Bruno’s dog kept stealing carrots from the stall. (And yet Nonno never moved the carrots.) The stories would make Gianni smile. He loved these visits.

What he loved most was that Nonno never criticized him, no matter how much trouble he got into. Somehow he managed to express disapproval without berating him like his mother would. The message was silent but clear: “I love you, but I expect more from you. I know you’ll get there someday.”

That’s why Gianni never quite gave up. He just… he didn’t know what to do with his life, that’s all. He knew he’d never be a doctor like the Conti girl. University was out of reach for his family. And besides, his ambitions weren’t that grand. He knew he would live in this same neighborhood for the rest of his life, not because he was trapped, but because he wanted to. This was his home. He just needed to find his purpose.

Then one morning Mr. Gallo came pounding on his door to tell him that Nonno had a heart attack “or something” and had been taken to the hospital in the city. Gianni was not to worry. It was probably nothing. But could he watch the stall for the day?

This was Nonno’s way of distracting him. Of course he would worry. But Nonno’s stall had been open every day for 40 years. It wouldn’t seem right if it were closed. So Gianni got dressed and headed for the market.

The produce had already been delivered. Piled on the sidewalk haphazardly in splintery wooden crates, it had yet to be put on display. Gianni set to work.

He stacked everything neatly, just as he had seen Nonno do a thousand times. Not a single bean or tomato out of place. The stall was like a work of art. It said to all the passersby, “This is quality. Buy here.” The splintery crates were stacked in the alley for retrieval. And thus began the day.

Nonno recovered, thank God, but he had to slow down. So that summer, Gianni ran the stall for him. It was only temporary. Gianni’s friends would ride by and call him an old man. But a funny thing happened. He discovered that he didn’t care. He had found his purpose.

When the leaves started changing colors on the trees, Nonno sat down with Gianni and they both agreed that it was time. It was time for Gianni to take his rightful place in the family business. Besides, Nonno was enjoying feeding the pigeons as well as that damned carrot thief of a dog, and playing bocce ball with men he had known since the first grade. Now it would be Nonno’s turn to visit Gianni every day.

On the day Nonno took this picture, he could have told that casual observer that what he was seeing was not exhaustion. It was contentment and pride. It was the way things were always meant to be. It was just taking Gianni a while to figure it out, so Nonno had to give him a push. With his heart.

Now, how to get him to notice that Conti girl…

_________________________________

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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.

unicorn

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The Moment My Life Changed

After yesterday’s blog entry, Chuck is on my mind quite a bit. Even more so than usual, because I recently celebrated the 7th anniversary of our first kiss, or as I like to describe it, “The Moment My Life Changed”.

I actually made the first move. We had been talking for 4 hours on this particular day. We had everything in common. And he was about to leave for the last time. He had been my roofing contractor, and his crew was finished with the job and had left. I knew that if I didn’t do something, he’d walk right out of my life and I’d never see him again. So I kissed him.

And I felt it in my knees. Which was kind of dangerous, since we were standing on my roof. But it was worth it.

I had 4 amazing years with Chuck before he died, and he really taught me a lot about what love is, and also what it isn’t. Ours was a complicated relationship. But I don’t regret any of it, and I miss so much of it.

While he was alive, I described that first kiss as the moment my life changed, but little did I know. My whole life can be divided into before that kiss and after it. That first kiss meant I experienced love, but it also meant I experienced death and grief and excruciating pain and loneliness and despair.

That kiss and that love and that death also sent me headlong across the country, to Seattle. That has also been a bit of a jumbled bag of joy and sorrow. No regrets there either, most of the time.

Every year when this anniversary rolls around, I experience very mixed emotions. Part of me thinks I should stop writing it on my calendar, because I suck at remembering dates, so if I left it off, I would stop riding this particular roller coaster. But part of me thinks, no, I should hold on to it, at least until I experience another kiss that I feel in my knees. If I ever get that lucky.

Damn. What a kiss that was. Hoo!

First Kiss

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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: iso.500px.com]
[Image credit: iso.500px.com]

Anagnorisis and Peripeteia

I suspect that very few people outside of those who are serious literary scholars are familiar with these two terms, but we all should be, because most of us have experienced them at some point, and when we do, our lives change forever.

Let’s start with definitions courtesy of dictionary.reference.com:

anagnorisis

[an-ag-nawruh-sis, –nohr-]

noun, plural anagnorises 

  1. (in ancient Greek tragedy) the critical moment of recognition or discovery, especially preceding peripeteia.

peripeteia

[per-uh-pi-tahyuh, –teeuh]

noun

  1. a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work.

So, to oversimplify things, anagnorisis is that moment when the scales fall from your eyes and you realize something for the first time. As a New England friend of mine likes to say, “Dawn breaks on Marblehead.” And that “whoa “moment, that anagnorisis, is what often throws you headlong into peripeteia, a turning point in your life.

Here are some examples:

Anagnorisis: Holy cow! I have the winning lottery ticket!
Peripeteia: Take this job and shove it!

Anagnorisis: My husband just allowed his boss to steal my life savings and has absolutely no intention of doing anything about it.
Peripeteia: Kindly sign these divorce papers. Now.

Anagnorisis: Being told the love of your life has died unexpectedly.
Peripeteia: Quitting your job and moving 3000 miles away to start your life over.

You might think of anagnorisis and peripeteia as the cruel handmaidens of fate, but often when you look back upon your meeting with them after the blessed passage of time, you will discover that they can be the best things that have ever happened to you. You never know when you’ll cross paths with them, but speaking from experience, I owe them a debt of gratitude, and will make an effort to embrace them from now on when we cross paths. But I’ll ask them politely to keep their visit brief, because their company, frankly, can be a bit draining.

hot dog

Rota Fortunae

A friend of mine challenged me to write a blog entry about the Wheel of Fortune. Not the game show, thank goodness, but a much meatier topic: the medieval philosophy about fate. So here goes.

You see this topic coming up over and over again in the literature of the time. They believed that the goddess Fortuna randomly spins this wheel to which we are all attached. If you happen to be on the less fortunate part of that wheel when it stops, well, then, you are in for some bad luck indeed. And, as the carnival barkers say, “Where she stops, nobody knows!”

I happen to have my own completely unsubstantiated theory about the origins of this philosophy. I think it was an invention of the people in power, whether they were religious or political leaders. As we all know, life in that era was nasty, brutish and short for the average person. If they had had time to lift their heads up and look about them, they might just have built up a healthy resentment for their plight, but most of them were too busy just trying to survive.

But just in case, it would be quite handy for the upper classes to be able to instill in the unwashed masses a belief that they had absolutely no power over their own destiny. If there’s no hope for change, there’s no point in bitterness. Resign yourself to your fate. Accept the fact that we’re all tied to Fortuna’s wheel. Don’t ask questions.

I find it quite interesting that when the wheel of fortune was mentioned back then, it was usually in reference to one’s run of bad luck. Unexpected death or illness. Loss of children. You never heard about the people who would have had to have been attached to the top, or “good luck”, part of the wheel when it stopped. I suspect those were usually the royals and the popes. Goodness, no, we don’t want to draw attention to them. That might cause the very resentment that the powers that be were trying to avoid.

I do believe that fate does have a role in my life. Some pretty horrible and pretty amazing things have happened to me that I did nothing personally to bring about. But I also believe that the choices I make influence the path my life takes. If I decide to turn left, I might meet the love of my life. If I turn right I might not. But I’m the one who decides which way to turn.

I don’t think I’m tied to a wheel. I view it more as a pendulum. Age and experience tells me that when things aren’t going well, it’s just a matter of time before the pendulum will swing back the other way. I derive a lot of comfort from that. But I don’t feel helpless. The pendulum is going to swing, yes, but I get to decide which plane it will swing on. That counts for something.

Wheel of Fortune

[Image credit: web.eecs.utk.edu]

The Domino Effect

I had an interesting discussion about fate with a friend the other day. She sees it as sort of a fixed point, and no matter what you do, what choices you make, sooner or later you are going to wind up at that point, wherever it may be. That kind of depresses me. If that’s the way it is, why even try? Why bother? Why have any ambition or goals? She, on the other hand, sees it as comforting. Kind of an everything-will-be-all-right scenario.

In contrast, I see fate as the result of a kind of a domino effect. Every decision that is made (and not even necessarily by you) alters your ultimate outcome. Fate, to me, isn’t a fixed point. It’s more like a spectrum of potential. And the reason none of us can predict the way our lives will turn out is that the dominoes aren’t stacked in a nice, simple, straight line. As in one of those complicated displays like the one in the video shown below, there are many branches of dominoes that are propelling you toward your final destination, and the only way to predict their outcome is through benefit of hindsight.

For example, one of my coworkers took this photograph back in 2011, and by doing so he changed my life. I didn’t know about this picture until just the other day, and yet what a profound impact it has had.

Ballard Bridge Seattle

On that beautiful sunny day in 2011 he was in Seattle visiting his son, and he happened to see the Ballard Bridge open. He took that picture. Then one day while looking at that picture he thought, “What a cool place that would be to work.” He decided to look into it, and signed up for job notices with the City of Seattle.

Fast forward to 2014. My boyfriend dies unexpectedly and I’m not coping well with the fact that I have to drive past the place where he died every single day. In other words, another branch of dominoes began to fall. I had been wanting to get out of Jacksonville for about 30 years, but nothing up to this point had successfully propelled me past those city limits. At least not for any length of time.

Then suddenly one day this past summer those two branches of dominoes converged. I was sitting with my coworker at shift change and I was telling him how I wanted out of Florida, and he mentioned a job notice he had just gotten for the drawbridges in the city of Seattle. He suggested I apply, and I thought, “What have I got to lose?”

And here I am, on the other side of the country, sitting on a drawbridge that I didn’t even know existed a year ago. All because he took that photograph. Talk about fate! All the friends I make from here on out, all the places I live, all the sights I see from now until the very day I die will be due, in part, to the taking of that photograph. I ought to tattoo it on my butt.

So do I believe in fate? Yes I do. But I also think one can change one’s stars. The tricky thing is you can never know for sure what sort of dominoes you are about to send tumbling. That’s the very definition of life, isn’t it? That’s what makes it so exciting!

90 Degree Angles

I have always been fascinated with that split second just before everything takes a sharp turn and changes for the better or for the worst; that moment before you become an entirely different person. What does that look like, and are there any hints of the upcoming earthquake? Is the air shimmering around you as the energy of your destiny is reaching critical mass?

Oddly enough I got to watch that on film yesterday. When I need a break from my own life, I tend to become a voyeur in the lives of others. I therefore have a weakness for reality TV. And since I absolutely refuse to pay for cable, I tend to pick a series that is a few years old but available on Youtube and watch that.

So I’ve been watching Big Brother Australia from 2012 lately. One of the more loveable housemates is named Josh. You can just tell he’s an all around decent person. Then… there it was. One minute he’s laughing and joking with everyone, and the next he gets called away, only to find out that his brother died of a heart attack at age 32. Needless to say, he left the show, but first he came back to say goodbye to everyone. And you could tell he was a different person.

After I saw that, I backed up and watched him from before the news. Yup. Different. Definitely. But no warning signs. It’s not like his aura started growing dim or turning black. There was no alarm sounding that the world was ignoring. It’s just that one minute he was care free, and the next he was in shock. I’ve definitely been there.

I think the reason I am so obsessed with transitional moments is that I hope that if I see some sort of warning signal, maybe I can fend off the fickle finger of fate before it touches me next time around. But alas, it isn’t to be. There was nothing Josh could have seen to prevent the train of his life from jumping the tracks. That’s just how life is. When you allow yourself to fully grasp that fact it can be quite terrifying indeed. But it also makes you appreciate every precious second of routine that you get.

th_bigbrother_josh

Much belated condolences, Josh.