Crossing Paths with Futures Past

Have you ever run into someone you once thought you’d have a bright future with, but it didn’t work out? It’s a very disconcerting feeling. You are standing there in your present, getting a glimpse of a life you could have had. You’re peeking down a parallel timeline.

It’s a very bittersweet feeling. It reminds me of that scene in The Way We Were when Barbra Streisand runs into Robert Redford with his new love and says to him, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” That movie always makes me cry. Memories…

But such encounters can also be a stark reality check. On more than one occasion I’ve come away from them thinking, “Whew! I dodged that bullet!” Because it’s blatantly obvious that the person in question is not in a place where I’d want to be. Perhaps their health has deteriorated, or they’re now abusing a substance, or they’ve moved to a hellish location, or they’ve become inexplicably obsessed with collecting traffic cones. No thanks.

If you’ve been pining away for that person, absorbing this new reality into your worldview might take some time. But what a relief to no longer pine. Pining takes a lot of energy. (That, and the sap is hard to get out of your hair.)

I suggest that when confronted with loves past, you take that opportunity to assess, and hopefully appreciate, where you are now. Now is your reality, and hopefully it is your gift. Your life could have unfolded in a multitude of ways, but here you are.

Having done that, resist the urge to tell that person, “This happiness could have been yours, you big dummy.” It might be satisfying, but in the end, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Life has a funny way of going on. (And for all you know, he or she is thinking the same thing.)

Most of all, crossing paths with futures past should make you aware of how many options you have. You can’t control other people, of course, but you have a multitude of opportunities to write your story in the best possible way, even if it isn’t going the way you once predicted that it would.

Good luck, dear reader!

The Way We Were

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Our Connection with the Universe

I read something recently that really made me think. If you lived on the sunshine side of a tidal locked planet (one in which one side of its sphere always faces the body it orbits around), over the generations you might completely lose sight of the fact that there’s a universe out there, because you’d never see the stars.

How tragic that would be. For centuries, Man has been looking skyward and wondering what is out there. We imagine constellations of stars as being part of a group even though they are nowhere near each other. We give them names. We wonder if we are alone.

Personally, I find it extremely comforting that there’s something so much larger than myself that it practically renders me insignificant. It makes me feel that any concerns I may be having are insignificant, too.

There is so much beauty in the night sky. It calms me. It embraces me. I’d hate to lose that sense of awe.

Our moon is tidally locked to us, which is why we always see the same face. But we are not tidally locked to it, nor is it tidally locked to the sun, which is why we see different phases of it as it continues to face us. If you lived on the far side of the moon, you wouldn’t know earth existed. That’s a profound view of reality, because the earth is comparatively huge, and would be rather hard to ignore in other circumstances.

Tidal locking would mean you’d only get to see one version of reality. And over time that reality would be reinforced to such a degree that it would be hard to leave room for any other beliefs. (In fact, one’s very concept of the passage of time would probably be so different that it might render one incapable of imagination.)

It just goes to show that your reality has a great deal to do with where you are looking. That’s why I love to travel so much. I think it’s important to experience other points of view. And by that I don’t just mean the opinions of others. I mean the points from which I get to view the world and the heavens.

I hope you take time to look about you, dear reader. There are many things to see. And those sights will enhance your connection to the universe.

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The Ultimate Zero Sum Equation

It’s rather interesting, when you think about it, how much time we waste worrying about how much time we’re wasting. I mean, what a waste! That time would be much better spent being wasted in some other way.

Time marches on. Life is the ultimate zero sum equation. You can expend all the energy you want in trying to be efficient, trying not to waste time, working, planning, plotting, organizing, or watching cat videos on Youtube, but in the end, time is going to pass regardless. It can’t be stopped. We’re all going to get older and eventually die.

Am I suggesting that we should just give up and give in to those cat videos? On the contrary, I think the way we spend our time is important. If we focus on giving joy to others, and trying to make the world a better place, and doing the things that we love the most, then it will have been time well spent.

But stop beating yourself up over it all. Just be in the moment. Just live.

Because you can’t control time. You can’t “spend it” or “save it”. You can only experience it. So make it the best experience that you possibly can, and stop stressing out over it all.

time marches on

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Time’s A-Wastin’

His Facebook page is full of lighthearted posts. Funny things he felt like passing along. Videos of cats. Smiling selfies. Humorous observations. The next post is bound to pop up any minute.

I barely knew him. He was a friend of a friend. We had pleasant exchanges in the comment section. I knew I’d like him. We’d yet to meet face to face. Vague plans had been made, and had yet to be carried out.

And now he’s dead, in his 50’s. Natural causes, they say. But there’s nothing natural about dying in one’s 50’s.

It’s all so fleeting. So unexpected. One day you’re taking a selfie, and the next you’re gone.

Life is precious. Don’t waste time. Savor every moment.

Wasting Time

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Showing Up

I will never forget the people in my life who have shown up for me. I can still see the faces of those who have visited and/or driven me to hospitals. I remember promises that were kept. I will forever be loyal to people who have stepped up in my moments of greatest need. Those who have loaned me money are wonderful, and so are those who have leant me an ear or a shoulder. More than once I have been given a place to stay or sincere feedback when I’ve needed advice.

The fascinating thing is that you can never be sure who those people will be until you are thrust headlong into a moment of truth. It might be someone whom you’ve always considered a mere acquaintance. It’s not unheard of that these heroes will be total strangers. And hopefully you have a few old reliables—people who are always there for you, no matter what. It’s wonderful to know there are people you can count on.

Sometimes people can’t be there for you. Life happens. But if you have people in your world who regularly stand you up, or make promises that they don’t keep, or make wild excuses for outrageous behavior… those people are not your friends. It’s best to kick them to the curb.

The best gift in the world is simply showing up, emotionally, for the people you care about. It’s a gift of consideration, and time, and effort. It doesn’t have to cost a dime, but it will be priceless for the person on the receiving end.

Showing up

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Anticipatory Stress

The 4th of July is the worst day to be an American bridgetender. Drunken boaters and pedestrians are out in force. There’s plenty of stress and aggravation, and a lot of people to avoid injuring due to their own foolishness. While you are out enjoying your fireworks, we bridgetenders are trying to avoid nervous breakdowns.

And yes, I got to work the 4th of July this year. Lucky me. I spent a lot of time politely bellowing at people through the bullhorn. It may not sound like it, but I do it because I care. I’d really rather not kill anyone if I can avoid it.

At a certain point, I realized that a great deal of my tension was purely anticipatory. I knew the night was going to suck. And sure enough, it did. But stressing out over things that have yet to happen is counterproductive at best. Fight or flight should be reserved for the moment when you spot the mountain lion, not for when you’ve heard that there might be one within a 10 mile radius. Caution is great, but becoming adrenalized before the fact does nothing but make you feel exhausted and sick to your stomach.

So I spent a great deal of the night checking in with myself. What is happening now? What are my rational concerns at this moment in time? Breathe…

This takes practice. I never really thought about how much time I waste anticipating disaster. All the more reason to try to stay centered in time.

Hope you had a better 4th than I did!

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Shooting Your Mouth Off

In this fast-paced era, it’s so easy to say things without thinking. We’re in too much of a hurry. We can fire off an insult to the other side of the world in mere seconds. This is not progress.

Yes, I have been known to say what I think, to my detriment, but at least back in the 70’s there was usually a waiting period. No e-mails. I had to write it down, find an envelope, address it, stamp it, then find a mailbox. By then I usually calmed down and didn’t mail my rant.

There is a reason wars were less deadly prior to gunpowder. If you actually have to approach someone and look them in the eye with your sticks and stones, if you have to tramp for hundreds of miles before engaging, you have some time to think. But when you can easily reach your destination and shoot from a remove, there’s more room to act rashly. Semi-automatic is always more impulsive than flintlock, and flintlock trumps boiling oil every time.

Time calms you down. Effort wears you down. These things have been taken from us. We no longer get the time to ponder while heating up the oil.

Have you ever heard of someone getting into a fist fight right after chopping a cord of wood? Me neither.

We need to remember to slow down. If we lose that ability, we’re in big trouble.

slow down

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The Middle Distance

I shouldn’t blog when I’m this tired. I’m seeing things out of the corners of my eyes that aren’t actually there. Furtive movements. I so rarely have the opportunity to use the word “furtive”. Why is that? Hmmm…

Clearly, I lack focus. I’m finding it impossible to think coherently. So brace yourself, dear reader. This might be a bumpy ride.

Okay, I just had to slap myself on the cheek to break my prolonged stare into the middle distance. It is stare, right? Not stair? No. Not stair. That would be silly.

The middle distance. What a seductive place. I often find myself there and it comes as a shock, because I know that’s not where I intended to go. Visiting that place has gotten me into trouble at school and in office meetings.

But the middle distance is so magical. And comfortable. It can embrace you like a lover. I’m surprised I haven’t gotten stuck there. Once I’ve arrived, it’s hard to leave.

And, better yet, it comes with glaze. I love glaze. It’s delicious. But not when it’s used on my eyes.

Nothing much ever happens in the middle distance, and yet I can’t seem to stay away. I’m not even sure I age while there. Time seems to stop. That’s why I cannot say with any accuracy how long I linger there.

It never looks the same. Sometimes it’s pretty, sometimes it’s not. I think. I’m not sure, because it’s always blurry. And there must be something in the water, or at least the air, because I lose all motivation. It’s the place I go when I desperately want to sleep but can’t.

The middle distance. The land that time forgot. It lies somewhere beyond the event horizon, just west of the Twilight Zone. You may not know it, but you’ve been there. And you’ll be back.

If you happen to see me there, say hello. And make sure I’m not operating any heavy equipment. I’ll be the one with the glaze.

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Live Your Dash

I was completely befuddled when I heard that expression for the first time the other day. But once it was explained to me, it immediately became part of my personal philosophical handbook. We should all live our dashes.

Imagine your tombstone. It will include the date you were born, a dash, and the date you died. That dash is your life. Your whole entire life, boiled down to one tiny symbol on a tombstone. That’s pretty sobering.

You are the only one who will know what that dash has meant, from beginning to end. Only you will have borne witness to every millimeter of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The joyous. The profound. The horrible. The intense. The amazing.

That dash will be made up of all your risks and opportunities and triumphs and failures. It will sum up all your achievements. It will mark your generosity and your selfishness, your inspiration and your despair. It will also include a lot of wasted time.

Try not to waste too much time. Make something outstanding of your dash. Live! Love! Travel! Experience as much as you possibly can.

Devour life. It’s the best gift you will ever be given. And the value of that gift will be what you make of it.

Live your dash.

Dash

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The Anatomy of a Traumatic Experience

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.

I5_ShipCanal_Web

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