Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to make a wish, my stock response has been to ask for peace on earth. With world peace, I thought, everything else would have a much better chance of falling into place. If we could direct our energies elsewhere, surely we’d focus on the greater good, right?
Well, it was a nice idea. Unfortunately, wishing has yet to make it so. And the older I get, the more cynical I become. I no longer think most of us prioritize the greater good. Most of us just want good for me and mine.
So I decided to reverse-engineer my thought process. Why don’t we already have peace on earth? What causes war?
That’s easy. Greed. Desire for cheap oil so we can maintain our destructive lifestyles. Desire for land that never belonged to us in the first place. Desire for riches that someone else has accumulated. The view that women are chattel and men make good field hands. Desire to make a profit from the military industrial complex. As long as this greed exists, war will exist.
I’d even go so far as to say that Greed is what causes the six other deadly sins. Think about it.
Pride is feeling good about what you have, or the ways you are superior. Greed is what caused you to strive for those things.
Lust stems from the greedy need to have the best mate all to yourself.
Envy is greed unfulfilled.
Gluttony is greed that is so fulfilled that you can’t seem to stop yourself from feasting upon it.
Wrath is the feeling you get when your greed is unsatisfied.
Sloth sets in when you either become so exhausted by your greed, or you are reveling in the fact that you’ve gotten what you’ve greedily taken from others.
In this age of corruption, especially in the halls of power, greed should be viewed as our greatest enemy. So from now on, when I make a wish, it will be for the death of greed. Surely then we could know peace.
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It was an unremarkable day. In retrospect, that was one of the strangest things about it. I was walking across the bridge to get to work, as I’ve done thousands of times. The sun was out. I had no plans, really. Think “status quo.”
And then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned, just in time to see the guy hit the water. He had jumped off the next bridge over. There was this big splash, and that’s when time stopped for me. I think I will always carry with me a static image of him hitting the water, the splash and the waves it caused frozen in place. Because at that instant I knew he was dead. I knew it just as sure as I’m alive.
Needless to say, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at the body with my mouth hanging open. My mind started to bargain. “You didn’t really just see that.” “It’s not a body. Someone must have dropped something big and heavy off the bridge.” “This is not happening.” “No. This can’t be happening.”
Then I saw two boats race out from the rowing club. They tried to drag the body out of the water, but they couldn’t. Then the Harbor Patrol came screaming around the bend in the lake, and they were able to pull him out.
Somewhere along in there I had walked woodenly to the drawbridge tower where I work. (The sequence of events is forever hazy in my mind.) I climbed the stairs. “Did you see that?” I said to my coworker.
“See what?” She had been looking the other way. Time had been moving at a normal pace for her. And then I changed that, probably. She went down and talked to the officers on the scene, and then she left, after urging me to call our supervisor.
I talked to the supervisor for a long time. This is not the first time a bridgetender has witnessed a suicide, and it won’t be the last. She offered to let me have the day off, but I didn’t feel up to the commute. I was already there, and I could be traumatized at work just as easily at I could at home. She also strongly encouraged me to contact our Employee Assistance Program and get some counseling, because this was a big deal.
How right she was. I had never seen anyone die before. I’ve seen dozens of people consider jumping, but then get talked out of it. That’s upsetting enough. I’ve seen a few dead bodies, after the fact. But I’ve never seen anyone die before. It changes you.
I spent the rest of the shift feeling stunned and sad and sick to my stomach. I didn’t accomplish much. I kind of stared off into the middle distance a lot of the time. I thought about the jumper, and was heartbroken that he had felt so much pain and despair that he made that irreversible choice. I was heartbroken for the people who love him. I was upset for all the other witnesses, including the ones at the waterfront restaurant who were expecting to have a lovely salmon lunch, as I have on more than one occasion, and instead got an awful memory.
The weird thing was that I could see that life was going on all around me. Boats were happily floating over the spot, unaware that someone had just died there. People were jogging. Cars hummed their way across the bridge.
The waterway had always been kind of a sacred place for me. Now it had been violated. By the jumper? By the boaters? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
I talked to several people during the course of the shift. My crew chief stopped by. He offered, again, to let me have the day off. He reminded me about the Employee Assistance Program. He told me a few stories about things he’s experienced, and how it made him feel. It was really nice of him to stop by. I kind of felt detached, though.
I also called my sister, who was predictably horrified and sympathetic, and a few friends, who were sorry and tried to be comforting. I even spoke to my therapist. But I felt… it’s hard to explain. I felt like I was in a different reality. A different place, where I couldn’t quite reach them, and they couldn’t quite reach me. I could hear what they were saying, but it was like I was at a high altitude, and my ears had yet to pop. At a remove. Alone.
At the end of the shift I expected to go home and have a really good cry, but the tears never came. As of this writing, they still haven’t come. But I can feel them on the inside.
When I got home, I hugged my dog, and then fell into a deep sleep. I was really afraid I’d have a nightmare and wake up screaming with only my dog to comfort me, but that didn’t happen. I don’t even think I tossed or turned. I barely even wrinkled the sheets. It was like I had been in a coma.
When I woke up, “it” was my first thought. But oddly enough, I felt calm. I felt rested. I was in a good mood. Could I have gotten past this so easily? It felt like I had been given a “get out of jail free” card. What a relief. Tra la la.
Okay, yeah, maybe I’ve gotten past this. Woo! What an adult I am! This is awesome! Just in case, though, I did look into sending a condolence note to the next of kin. I spoke to the Harbor Patrol Chaplain. Naturally, he couldn’t give me a name, but he might be able to forward the note on for me. I thought that would be a nice little bit of closure.
I also spoke to the Employee Assistance Program, and set up some counseling sessions, even though I was feeling great. Way to go for practicing self-care, Barb! I felt really mature and well balanced.
In fact, I spoke to a couple of professionals who thought I was probably over the worst of it. But my therapist told me, cautiously, that I’d probably experience ups and downs for quite some time. There’s a reason she makes the big bucks.
Again, that night, I slept well. I was rested the next day, but a little subdued. Nothing major. Just kind of bleh.
And then that afternoon I started to shake uncontrollably. I wasn’t cold. I was just suddenly overwhelmed. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had several semi-urgent things on my to-do list, but it was painfully obvious that I was in no shape to deal. I just… I shut down.
I kind of checked in with myself, and what I got was: I’m afraid. I feel out of control. Everything feels so fragile, like a soap bubble. I’m so exhausted that the air feels like the consistency of chocolate pudding. Everything takes more effort than normal. I just want to be left alone.
Which is kind of good because after that first day, most people stopped following up with me. They were over it. It was an awkward conversation. Life goes on. But I still felt, and still feel to this day, that I need someone to hold me while I cry, and that someone can’t seem to be found.
Yes, there’s therapy in my future, and yes, I’ll learn to cope with my new reality. I know this because it’s not the first traumatic thing that’s ever happened to me. I hope it’s the last, but I kind of doubt it. I am also well aware that things are cyclical. I’ll have good days and bad days.
Perhaps it’s the awareness of the cycles of life that have always prevented me from making the horrible choice that the jumper did. No matter how bad things get, even when the loneliness is so bad it’s physically painful, I know that eventually the pendulum shifts in the other direction.
That, and I could never put someone through what that jumper has put the witnesses, the first responders, and his loved ones through. Never. Not ever.
Having said that, though, I hope he has found the peace that seems to have eluded him in life.
I like chestnuts at this time of year, but this particular chestnut is getting old. I’m referring to the annual debate about whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Here’s why I think the answer is clear.
When I say Happy Holidays, I am wishing you a Merry Christmas. I’m also wishing your neighbor a Happy Chanukah, a Good Festivus, a Lovely Winter Solstice, a Happy Kwanzaa, a Joyful Yule, etc. I do this because I love all my diverse friends, every single one, and I want them all to be happy. I wish them all well. Is that really so terrible?
By saying Happy Holidays, I’m not disparaging your beliefs or the holiday you choose to celebrate. I’m not saying Christmas is evil or your religion needs to be abolished. If anything, I think Jesus would be all about spreading the love and including as many people in that love as possible. By saying Happy Holidays, I’m showing my dedication to peace on earth, good will toward Men. All of them. Every last one.
I genuinely believe that the majority of people who say Merry Christmas don’t mean any harm. I think their wishes come from a good place and are sincere. Well wishes from an open heart are always welcome by me. In fact, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, that’s the only time I’m perfectly comfortable responding in kind. Because their stance is already established. We are fellow celebrants, so there’s no risk of discomfiture or offense. So, Merry Christmas to you, too!
On the other hand, by insisting everyone say Merry Christmas, you are sending a very different message. You’re saying, “If you’re not Christian, that’s your problem. I don’t have to take you into consideration. My holiday is the only right holiday. You are wrong for not complying.” You are also assuming that every person does, or should, think and behave exactly like you. You are taking the entire month of December hostage, and making it awkward for anyone else to celebrate anything else. You are excluding people.
Why wouldn’t you want to open your arms and your heart wider? Wasn’t that Jesus’ central message, after all? You are turning this into a debate that’s so contrary to the holiday spirit that it makes me want to spit out my egg nog, throw up my hands and forget the whole thing.
We are all a product of our past. The way we cope with things in the present is greatly influenced by what we’ve experienced in our lives. Our psyches do not always know best. All they know is that it’s important to survive, and if something has worked, however twisted it may be, then, hey, let’s go with that.
Case in point, I was sexually abused as a child, and the adults around me who should have been protecting me were either oblivious or in deep denial. So now, when someone in a position of authority over me is acting irrationally and/or clearly does not have my best interests at heart, it tends to freak me out. That’s putting it mildly. I go straight into “Danger, Will Robinson!” mode.
Because of this, my coping mechanism is to speak up, and continue to speak up until SOMEBODY LISTENS! Cockroaches do not like to have light shined upon them. So I give them the spotlight, by God.
This doesn’t always serve me well. For a start, it makes me look crazy and/or hysterical and/or like a trouble maker. Most people really don’t want to hear about injustice. They’d rather let bullies do their thing, as long as that thing is being done to someone else.
I can’t do that. I just can’t. It’s not in me.
On the other hand, I have a friend who grew up with an abusive alcoholic, and the way he learned to cope was to pull his little turtle head into its shell until the storm had passed. He will do or say whatever it takes to appease his abuser, even at the risk of his own dignity. And to my shock, this actually seems to work rather well for him, self-pride notwithstanding. People in the vicinity of a confrontation absolutely love it when the situation is “fixed” quickly. Even if it isn’t really fixed.
I could never be like that. Not in a million years. Clearly, we are at opposite extremes of the coping spectrum. I set great store by integrity. He sets great store by peace. But does that mean one of our strategies is better or worse than the other? Not really. We are who we are. We do what works for each of us. We are both wounded, and doing our best to keep those wounds from further infection.
I guess my point is that when you see someone reacting in a way that confuses you, try to remember that the war that person is waging (or choosing not to wage) is one that he or she has been fighting (or not fighting) for many years. There’s history there. There may be wounds that you can’t see at first glance. And while change may be possible, it can’t be counted upon. Look deeper. Understanding is a step in the right direction for all concerned.
I’ve been looking for you for years. I often wondered if you were right under my nose and I just wasn’t seeing you, or if I wasn’t looking in the right place. More than once I thought I saw you, and you just couldn’t or wouldn’t see me. I always wondered if you were reading my blog, which was the only way I knew how to show myself to the world.
Did we pass each other on the street without recognizing each other? I’d look into the faces of strangers, hoping they’d see me, really see me, and consider me worth the effort. I’m sure I looked like every other face in the crowd, but inside my head I was screaming, “Where are you?”
It’s been a long, lonely, painful slog. I know you’ve been looking for me, too. If you’re reading this, I’m just glad you’re finally here. All during the search, precious time was passing; this was time I could have been spending with you. It felt like such a missed opportunity.
Every time I saw something new, I wanted to share it with you. Every time I got good news, I wanted to tell you. Every time I hit a rough patch, I wished you were there to comfort me. And there were a lot of amazing experiences I passed up, simply because I didn’t want to go it alone. I hope we still have time to do those things. I hope you’ll want to.
All I’ve ever wanted, really, was someone to travel with, and take naps with, and be playful with and have intelligent conversations with. I’ve wanted someone brave enough to win over and love my psycho dog as much as I do (that alone will weed out the vast majority). I’ve wanted someone who looks forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing him.
I wasn’t looking for glamor or perfection, just mutual acceptance. I want us both to be able to be ourselves. I want someone who gets me. I want us to be able to count on each other. I had that once, and it was abruptly taken away. (I just hate mortality, sometimes.) I miss it.
I want to create a safe and peaceful harbor, together. So if you’re reading this, thank you for showing up. I’m sorry for almost having given up on you. I should have had more faith. But having said that, what took you so long?
I’d say that working on a drawbridge is a very zen-like experience 95% of the time. Unfortunately, you never know when that 5% of pure chaos is going to rear up and bite you on the patootie. I had one of those days recently.
I went to bed at 3am. No, I’m not a party animal. It’s just that I didn’t have to be to work until 3pm on this particular day, so I tend to sleep in. Way, way in. It’s one of the few joys of being single, and I take full advantage of it.
So imagine my confusion when the phone rang at 7am, right in the middle of a REM cycle. My dream popped like a bubble. I hate when that happens. For a minute I have no idea where I am, or even who I am. It’s like my brain has to reboot.
I was being called to come in to work early. How early? 11am. They needed me to work a 12 hour shift. Okay. Crap. I set my alarm for 9:30 and went back to sleep. At least I’d be getting 4 hours of double overtime. (Thanks, union!)
So in to work I went, to find that I had company for the first 4 hours. A Trainee. Actually, I like training people. It’s kind of fun. And this was a pleasant person to talk to, whom I could see would work out nicely. As I’ve written before, I can pretty much tell if someone is fit for this job within the first 5 minutes.
But while he was here, the sidewalk camera shorted out. That’s a problem because it means we can’t see all the pedestrians before we open the bridge, and Seattle pedestrians are horrifyingly non-compliant about staying off of moving bridges, despite flashing lights, loud gongs, and us desperately screaming at them. It’s a wonder no one has been killed. So fixing this camera is a top priority. Which means the electricians had to come out. Now we had 4 people crammed into a tiny little room, and that can be a bit emotionally draining. But they fixed the camera and were gone within an hour.
And then it was time for the trainee to leave. Finally, my usual routine. Peace. Quiet. My own domain.
Then the storm hit. Rain was coming down in sheets. And the next thing I knew, BOOM! Lightning struck just south of the bridge. Now, when I was a bridgetender in Florida, I was used to this. It was a rare day when lightning didn’t strike somewhere in my vicinity. But here in Seattle, I’ve only seen lightning three times in the nearly three years I’ve been here, so I nearly jumped out of my skin this time.
And then alarms started going off. Oh, shit. That’s never good. It turns out that 3 of the 4 drives that operate bridge had shorted out. It was after hours, so I called the supervisor of the electricians, and he told me to walk down to both ends of the bridge and push a specific button to reset the drives. All well and good, but the storm was still raging. I had to walk down with lightning crashing all around me. That was fun.
Then I walked back up to the tower, only to discover that one of the drives had reset, but the other two had not. I made a call again, and was told, again, to go down and push the button. Naturally, the two drives in question were on the far side of the bridge, which meant yet another long walk through the electrified tempest.
I came back to the tower. The two drives were still malfunctioning. Phone call number three. This time he said he’d be right out. So I sat there in the tower, drenched in sweat, waiting, as sailboats stacked up like cordwood on the canal, and I was contacted every five minutes by various boaters and had to explain why I wasn’t opening the drawbridge for them.
Could things possibly get worse? Of course! A traffic accident south of bridge backed up traffic for miles, delaying the arrival of the electrician.
And then the phone went dead. I’m getting calls on the marine radio from a variety of employees, asking if I’m sure that the phone is properly hung up. Do I look like an idiot? Of course the phone is properly hung up. Then the phone fixes itself with no intervention on my part, so of course everyone thinks the phone was not properly hung up. Sigh.
Oh, and the sidewalk camera went out again. Fortunately, it, too, fixed itself. Go figure.
The electrician finally makes it through the traffic snarl, and is able to fix things within 45 minutes, bless him. By now I’m so exhausted from the adrenaline rush that I’m nauseous and practically delirious. I have never been so happy to see 11pm in my life. The next challenge is driving home without falling asleep at the wheel.
When I finally get home, my dog is extremely happy to see me. (I just love dogs, don’t you?) So I feed him, take a shower to get all the sweat off, and dive into bed. I suspect I’ll be asleep within 5 minutes, which is a good thing, because I have to be back to work at 7am the next morning. I’ll be lucky to cram 5 hours of sleep in.
Except, did I mention that my dog is extremely happy to see me? I may be ready for bed, but he is not. He wants to play! He wants to tell me about his day. He wants to know where the hell I’ve been for 12 hours. He wants to warn me about the lightning monsters that come from the sky.
I hug him. I give him kisses. I tell him he’s a good dog. I beg him, I plead with him, to settle down. Finally, he curls up by my hip and…the next thing I know, the alarm goes off, and it’s time to do it all over again.
If I were a cartoon character, I’d have one of those squiggly lines above my head right now. I need a hug.
A friend of mine recently posted this quote on her Facebook page:
In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.
~ Robert Lynd
What a lovely sentiment. But it’s harder to do than it seems at first glance. Most of us live in a world full of noise without even realizing it. I know I block out the traffic sounds when I’m at work, and I can’t even remember the last time I took note of the hum of my refrigerator.
I can only recall experiencing total silence once. It was at Mesa Verde National Park. That complete absence of sound was really brought home to me when I saw a raven fly past. I could hear the beating of his wings. I’ll never forget that feeling of awe.
This summer, I’ll be spending several days camping with a friend in the mountains of British Columbia. I’m really looking forward to it. I suspect we’ll not only be off the grid but also off the beaten path. I look forward to gazing at the stars with no light pollution, but more than anything else, I can’t wait to be immersed in the silence. It will be like entering a warm bath on a cold, raw day.
Some people are made uncomfortable by silence. I adore it. It embraces me like an old friend. I only wish it were a little less elusive.