Thursday, October 18, 2012

It was a dark and stormy night

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, okay, perhaps "stormy" is not the right way to describe it. But it was dark, and it was raining lightly. A cool, wet autumn night. I was driving home from work after a reasonably busy shift of "saving lives and stamping out pestilence", as some of my colleagues and I somewhat jokingly call it. As I drove along the road, in the northbound lane on a straight stretch, I first thought it odd that a southbound vehicle would swerve into my lane ahead of me. I slowed and pulled towards the right, attempting to get out of the path of this oncoming vehicle. But the headlights of the other vehicle seemed to follow me, as the driver continued to drive on a head on collision course towards me. I moved to my left, still trying to avoid an accident, but, like a moth to a flame, the phantom vehicle again turned such that we were on a collision course yet again. At that time, I was aware that an accident was now unavoidable. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, as the red car crashed with a heavy impact into the front end of my vehicle on the passenger corner, crumpling the metal frame like tinfoil, and knocking my car off the opposite side of the road into a ditch.
Airbags deployed. The engine stalled. I unbuckled my seat belt, and I crawled out of the car, and worked my way through a thorn bush to see the damage and check on the other driver. I can see now the other driver is a young blond woman. The front end of her vehicle is scattered all over the road. Her airbags have deployed. Steam and smoke are rising from the engines of both cars. She is sitting in the driver's seat.
"Why the hell did you cross the median?" I asked her as I approached her car.
"Are you saying it was my fault?" was her response.
"Never mind about fault", I replied, "Are you okay?" I notice the smell of alcohol on her breath as I lean towards her to talk to her.
"My face hurts", she says.
By this time, I have reached the emergency services dispatcher and am answering all the questions he asks. Soon, police and emergency medical personnel are on the way. We, both drivers, are walking around at the scene. A few other cars have stopped and pulled off to the side of the road (her car is blocking both lanes of the roadway), but no one from those cars approaches to help. I'm now noticing that my chest is hurting, along with my neck, my right arm, and my knees, but I'm grateful that I appear to have no really serious injury. I make the phone call to my wife to let her know the car is damaged but I seem to be reasonably okay. Then I am transported to the hospital by ambulance.
I am assessed, x-rayed, treated and released.
Jump ahead in time about ten days...
I'm feeling better physically-not one hundred percent, but a lot of the bruises and pains have healed. My neck and ribs are still sore, but physical therapy seems to be helping, and I am not anticipating any long term effects.
But something has changed. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but things seem different. My perception of what matters has been altered since the accident. Somehow, the totaled car doesn't seem as important. The opportunity to spend any time, "quality" or not, with my wife and children, has assumed a much greater importance and priority. All of the things that used to matter-all the trivia of day to day life-really mean little to me now.
I am grateful for seat belts. I am grateful for airbags. I am grateful for my God.
I am so thankful to have walked away from the crash. I am so thankful to be alive. I am so thankful that my children have their father and that my wife has her husband. The colors of the autumn, the smell of the air, the taste of fresh food, and the feel of the wind on my face have all become that much sweeter.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lonely

Loneliness

I was reading a thread in another forum about being different and not fitting in, and it got me thinking. The thread was about religious and racial differences. In many ways, I can't relate at all-I've been quite privileged as a white, Christian, middle class male living in suburban North America and I'm thankful for the many advantages I've had.

But as I was pondering this, it got me to thinking about some of the times in my life when I really haven't fit in-whether visibly or invisibly-and the loneliness which that has produced. Some of the best and worst times in my life have been at my loneliest-and often, they have gone together.

["Mitch Robbins: Alright Ed, your best day, what was it, twins in a trapeze, what?
Ed Furillo: No, I don't wanna play.
Mitch Robbins: C'mon, we did it.
Ed Furillo: I don't feel like it.
Mitch Robbins: Uh, okay.
[pause]
Ed Furillo: I'm 14 and my mother and father are fighting again... y'know, because she caught him again. Caught him... This time the girl drove by the house to pick him up. And I finally realized, he wasn't just cheating on my mother, he was cheating us. So I told him, I said, "You're bad to us. We don't love you. I'll take care of my mother and my sister. We don't need you any more." And he made like he was gonna hit me, but I didn't budge. And he turned around and he left. He never bothered us again. Well, I took care of my mother and my sister from that day on. That's my best day.
Phil Berquist: What was you're worst day?
Ed Furillo: Same day." - City Slickers (1991, Ron Underwood)]


Anyway, back to the main thought at hand. Loneliness. Nonconformity. Ostracization. When I was a child I lived in Scotland for a couple of years, and it was a great adventure. At one point, we lived in a castle on a huge estate, there were ruined castles to explore all over the country and my parents took us to them, and the city of Edinburgh was an exciting place for a child to be (we lived in the city for awhile too). I went to a good private school and got a good education. We certainly weren't rich, though, and couldn't afford any real luxuries. School uniforms were a blessing, as we bought all our clothes from thrift stores, so we were not dressed in the latest fashions at all. It was easy as a child to find things to do and games to play-exploring the countryside, exploring the city.

But I had no friends. One of the years we lived there, I never had a friend over to the house, nor was I invited to anyone else's house. At school, I mostly retreated to a classroom and did extra work (math, primarily), to avoid the playground during break times. There were a few kids at school I could talk to, a little, but generally, as a foreigner, I was pariah. Lonely.

["Lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely eyes,
Lonely face, lonely lonely in your place.
Lonely, lonely, lonely eyes,
Lonely face, lonely lonely in your place.

I thought that I knew all that there was to,
Lonely, lonely, lonely..." - Tom Waits]

It's not that people were hostile to me, for the most part, though there was some of that. But there was a lack of friendship, a lack of closeness, a lack of intimacy. Somehow I was invisible. Not known, not cared for, not worth even a casual glance. Foreign. Alone.

["I am a solitary man, and not by choice alone. It may sound strange to you, it may border on eccentricity, but I feel to my depths that this, this warm haven in a coldly insane world, is both family and friend to me." - Stanley Ellin]

So I retreated...into myself, into fantasy worlds, into the printed word. Books were my closest friends when flesh and blood seemed absent. They comforted me, encouraged me, aroused me, and frightened and saddened me, but they made me feel alive. And the silence of the people around me-at least silence towards me-also helped me focus inwards. Adolescence is a hard time in anyone's life, I guess, but the silence around me helped me to fathom the very core of my being. Not being distracted by the outside world, the inside was my focus, and my playground, my school and my companion.

[Now don't be a cry baby when there's wood in the shed
There's a bird in the chimney and a stone in my bed
And the road's washed out, we pass the bottle around
And wait in the arms of the cold cold ground. - Tom Waits]

I don't know where I'm going with this. I don't want this to be a "poor me" kind of thing. I am who I am because of my upbringing, and I have had a good life. Solitary, yes. Bad, no. I have nothing to complain about and only a few regrets.

Eventually we moved again, and I came home. I grew up, and found a woman with whom I had children and now I am no longer quite so lonely. I still retreat into myself. I still find it difficult to get close to people, but I don't feel quite so alone.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Slavery and a Chance to Help Educate People About the Problem

According to Free the Slaves, there are ~27 million slaves in the world today. That is more than at any other time in history, despite it being illegal in pretty much every country of the world. It seems that most of these slaves are used in farm work or as domestics, though some are used in mining or the sex trade as well. There are slaves in almost every country in the world, including the United States, which is estimated to have over 10000 people living in slavery at any time (from Free the Slaves).

I came across this project, which is looking for funding to create a comic book about human trafficking and needs $8000 before the end of September to make it happen. Personally, I think it looks like a good way to introduce children to the problem and raise awareness of it across the nation. I'm supporting it-I hope you will too.

Borderland: A Comic Book About Human Trafficking

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Plumbing the Depths of the Mundane

I posted this a few years ago on another site, but thought I'd resurrect it here, since I don't have time to write anything else right now.

As I am approaching middle age, I am finding my perspective on things is changing. It recently occurred to me that I used to spend most of my time waiting for the big things to happen in my life, and just going through the routine of living the rest of the time. But so much of our time is spent on the ordinary, the little things, just the routines of life. So why do we waste so much time waiting for the big things, the exciting things, the meaningful things to happen to really fully experience life, instead of what I call plumbing the depths of the mundane?

It seems to me that my life would be much fuller and richer if I put as much emotional energy and commitment into the small things of life as I do those "important" things. I want to savor each and every moment that I am alive. I want to embrace the little things and absorb the experience completely so that it becomes a part of my mind, my body and my spirit.

I recently started wearing sandals for the first time in a very long time, and I have spent a long time just feeling and experiencing the sensation of the wind blowing through my toes, or the dew filled grass brushing up against it. Instead of simply ignoring this, I chose to contemplate it, to try and go as deeply into even such an ordinary experience as this, and plumb its depths. It gives one an entirely different perspective on everyday living!

I usually wolf down a meal in under three minutes and rarely even taste the food that I eat. But now I am trying to slow down and look at the presentation and colors of my meal; taste the food; feel its texture on my tongue and as I swallow it; smell the aromas; in short, I am trying to take the simple act of eating and turn it into a much more profound experience.

Now there is nothing wrong with the exciting experiences in life. There are big occasions that one looks forward to and are life changing events. Wonderful events. But these are sproadic events. They do not happen all the time for most of us, at least. So I have recently felt the need to deepen the meaning of every part of my life. Life is such a short and precious commodity that it is a shame to waste it. Broadening your experiences is one way to do that. Choosing to do things that you normally don't. But if we don't deepen our lives, change our way of looking at life then it seems to me that we are still not living life to the fullest, still not seizing the day, still not raging against the dying of the light.

I feel that life is a straight line, very thin. The longer one lives, the more area we fill. If we broaden our experience, the line becomes a wider ribbon, and the area we fill is greater. But if we can deepen our experiences then we fill a greater volume in our lives. I want to fill the greatest volume I can while I live this life!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I saw a mother die today...

I saw a mother die today. Her body didn't know she was dead when she rolled through the doors, and the paramedics and emergency department team pretended they didn't either, as they worked hard to resuscitate her. But in truth, we all knew that she had already died in the twisted and screaming metal wreckage that had once been her car. Her heart had just not learned the truth at that point...or maybe just refused to accept it.

I saw a mother die today. I think of those words, and it seems to affect me like few others among the many, many deaths I have seen. Maybe it was because she was young (only in her twenties), with what appeared to be a long life ahead of her. Maybe it was because she was a mother, and as she died, I stood with her four year old son. She might have seen her children grow up, finish school, get jobs. She might have celebrated many Christmases with them, and thrown them birthday parties. She might have been there at their weddings and watched as her grandchildren were born. But instead, I saw a mother die today.

I sat with her four year old son. He was in the car that killed his mother. He was scared, tied down on a hard board, blind...perhaps because of glass in his eyes, perhaps because he was scared to open his eyes after the visions he saw during the accident, who knows...(nothing was found later when we examined his eyes), in pain from his own injuries and calling out for his mother who would never again reply to his cries. There were many more qualified to sit with this frightened little child and comfort him, and they did. I did my part.

His father came and said that his mother had gone to heaven, and the little boy said, "no, mommy's in the next room". How do you tell a child his mother has died? How do you tell a child that his mother's head is almost severed from her body, that her internal organs have so many leaks that there simply is no blood left to circulate in the veins and arteries, and that her limbs have been crushed so badly that it almost seems there are no bones left in them? The father simply said he had to go live with him now and that he would not see his mother again.

"Bambi: Mother? Mother?
Great Prince of the Forest: Your mother can't be with you anymore."

How does a mother show her love? By properly restraining her son in the back seat, well secured in a car seat. He walks away from the accident that killed his mother.

I saw a mother die today, and I stood with her son.