Starry Nights and Heartbeats

Posted: October 9, 2013 in Life
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Funny thing, isn’t it?  When you’re young you have all of the time in the world, so nothing seems all that important.  You go out with your friends, have some pizza, run around the city all night and sleep until noon or late afternoon.  Life is good, despite the fact that you have just a few dollars to your name.  You have a roof over your head and there’s food on the table.

It’s only later on, when you get older that you begin thinking “you know, I should be doing something with my life.  I should be ‘here’ by now.”  “Here” meaning “owning a house” or “advanced in my career”.

If you’re not careful, you can go your whole life thinking that you’re constantly in a race to play catch-up.

I have to confess: my stance on life has always been like a car on a hill.  I didn’t need to do much, just let off the brakes and just coast.  Didn’t even have to turn the key. In some instances, I’ve allowed too much to happen without my consent, with the mistaken assumption that stuff was being “done to me”.  The horrible and stark fact is: I made the choice – even by doing nothing – to accept the circumstances life threw at me.

Photo is entitled "Chevys".  Photography by Noel Kerns. Visit his website at http://www.noelkernsphotography.com

Maybe this is why I still believe in God, though not religion.  The stuff that’s been thrown at me has been pretty good, with a few exceptions.  I’ve always had good-paying jobs, for example.  And when life in a factory got to be too stressful, I took a small buyout and quit (despite the fact that I had a family to support), and within a few months had another job in an office that paid almost as well.

I remember my wonderful boss at that job gathering us together for a regular meeting. (Man I loved that woman.  She was bright, articulate, generous and helpful, not just to her employees but to our clients.  But I digress).

At the start of the meeting, she asked us all to talk about what we were thankful for.  I recall one young woman sharing a look with another one, and then rolling their eyes.  Both participated though, and gave the usual responses.

“I’m thankful for my family.”

“I’m thankful for the new motorcycle I’m getting next week.”

Then it was my turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m thankful for my job.”

That got a derisive laugh – mostly from the two women.  I was serious though.

“Honestly, you don’t know what it was like for me before I got this job.  I worked in a place that was hell for me before coming here.  One time the stress was so bad they called in an ambulance.  I couldn’t wait to leave that place.”

The room got quiet.

“And then I got the call to come in here, and was tasked with helping people.  People who would otherwise end up on the street.  I’m being paid to guide them to a better life.  How awesome is that?”

The two women were silent, and watching.

“Plus” I added, “I get to play with computers.  And I get paid to do it!”  I smiled.  “And I get to work with you guys, in the best work environment ever.  Yeah, I’ve got lots to be thankful for.”

I wasn’t that comfortable expressing emotions openly so I stopped right there.  My boss noticed my discomfort, smiled and then called on the next person.

Another “coasting” experience involved kids.  Specifically, I didn’t want us to have any.  When my then-wife went in to the doctor’s office to get tested, the girls at the front desk got the news first.  One of them called me over.  “Do you want to have kids?” she asked, smiling.

“Sure” I said.  “I guess so”

Then my wife came out and gave me the news and we hugged.  Inwardly, I was aghast. I didn’t know myself all that well back then, but inside I was all like “back up, back up, BACK UP”.  The problem was that I wasn’t into my marriage at all, and was unconsciously looking for a way out.  (That’s a story for another day, but long story short: we got married way too young and for the wrong reasons.).  The bottom line was that anything permanent at all, like kids, pretty much put the nail in the coffin.  I felt trapped.  It was a scary place, the inside of my brain, back then.

A couple of days ago, I saw a YouTube video interview featuring Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint.  In it, she discussed her favourite Disney character – Ariel, from “The Little Mermaid”.  She said “my dad would kill me for saying this, but for my fifth birthday he dressed up as King Titan..” and here she started laughing “…which is so cool.”  She then went on to explain that her little brother was dressed as Sebastian.

As I drove to work the next day, I thought about that interview and about what her relationship with her dad must be like, and concluded that it had to be pretty amazing.  And that brought back some memories of my relationship with my daughter.

FLASH: I’m in the hospital, in the hallway waiting area. (I wasn’t allowed in to see the birth, as the baby was being delivered via C-section).  The doors open and out comes a nurse, pushing an incubator.  I can see through the window of the machine, and notice there’s a skin-coloured oblong thing in there.  “Sir?” she says, looking at me. “This is your baby.”  I walk over while she opens the top.  The thing has some hair on its head.  I look at the nurse.  She smiles “it’s a girl.  This is your daughter.” I look down at her, laying there.  She’s not moving, though she is breathing. I look back at the nurse.  “You can touch her”, she says. “Go ahead.”  The universe holds its breath, waiting.

I look down and reach my hand in and feet her arm.  It’s warm. And like that, my entire world rocked on its edge.  The change in me was imperceptible but strong.  As articulate a writer as I might be, I have no words for this.  I didn’t then and I still don’t now.  It’s like my brain turned itself inside out, shook out the crumbs of depression and angst and re-asserted itself.  I love this child. That’s the truth. It’s also an understatement.

Like I said.  No words.  The power of that moment has stayed with me, all of these years.  And I find I still can’t tell the story without feeling emotion.

FLASH: I’m in my living room, and my little girl is now five, maybe six.  I’m not sure. The TV is on and she’s standing there in front of it, looking at a commercial.  She seems completely unaware of anything except the TV, and she begins to mimic the announcer.  She does it perfectly and I suddenly burst out laughing.  My little princess has character!  And she’s hilarious.  Wow.

FLASH: Both of my kids are in trouble, and I’m angry.  They’ve done something wrong (I forget what it was, which shows you how important it is), and I need to bring the hammer down.  “YOU GUYS SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE THAT. I, UH…” I’m so angry I can’t speak properly. “THAT IS, IF YOU…IF I…”  My mistake was in chastising them both at the same time.  My son is laughter personified, looking for any excuse to let loose.  Put them together and they’re like gasoline and a struck match.

As I struggle to get the words out, my daughter suddenly bites her lip, then looks at her brother and they both start giggling then quickly dissolve into helpless laughter.  “THIS ISN’T FUNNY” – but it’s no use.  They’re too far gone.  And then, despite my damnedest, I can’t help joining in.  Hopeless.

FLASH: it’s about ten or eleven years later.  We’re in the new apartment and my daughter’s just come home from school.  She’s smiling (it’s kind of her thing: she smiles an awful lot, all the time).  she says “hey dad.  I went to the store and saw something.  I bought it right away because I just have to give it to you.”

I’m smiling in response. “Really?”  She grins.  “Yeah.  Let me get it out of my pocket”.  She reaches in and seems to struggle to get whatever it is out, and then she finally gets her hand out and flips me the bird, laughing hysterically.  I can’t help it – I start laughing too.

All of these memories flash through my consciousness on my ride to work, I get a small glimpse of what life would have been like had I not married and had kids.  Sort of a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment, if you will.  I imagine a life of utter boredom, a life of greyness.  An okay life perhaps, but missing such a golden seam of bright and blinking joy.  It hits me hard, this revelation. and I realize what is for me a grand truth: even if I’m not precisely where I want to be in my life, I feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I’ve no real complaints.  Not really.

Comments
  1. wolfshades says:

    P.S. I hope you liked the photo up there as much as I did. It’s entitled “Chevys” and it’s by photographer Noel Kerns. You can see some of his other great works at http://www.noelkernsphotography.com .

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  2. wheniwasaboy says:

    Well there ya go. Just like that, you put many of my self-imposed burdens in a better light. Not sure why we pile weights on our own shoulders, but we do. Thanks for the reminder about the blessing of gratitude.

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    • wolfshades says:

      Yes, I think we do take on a lot of unnecessary burdens. I’d hate to imply none of them are necessary, or need attention – but you’re right: perhaps many of them aren’t needed. My daughter recently suggested that if you stop for a moment and consider where you are right this minute, right this moment, and realize that this moment was inevitable, it changes you just a little bit. At first I thought “nothing’s inevitable” but then realized the truth of it: we arrive at this moment through our choices, so in a sense she’s right. This moment, because of our choices, was inevitable. Kind of takes the pressure off, just a bit.

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  3. My Dad’s best friend bought a 1954 Chevy to fix up for his daughter. It was in the early 60’s, so not all that old at the time. But, I was 15 and green-eyed with jealousy. I don’t know what year car is in your photo, but I can tell you that I would have loved to have had that car – rust and all. It’s funny, but my husband and I were talking about old cars just yesterday. I told him that I always wanted to fix up an old Chevy from bondo to seat covers. (I would have left the mechanical part to mechanics and professional paint job to the professionals….)

    FLASH: now I am 66 and my dream will never happen. However, I’m a Chevy gal and had a lot of neat Chevys over my lifetime and still drive one. But, even today, I would trade my Tahoe for a 1957 Chevy. Or…at least go back in time and not let my husband trade my old Caprice…

    There have been a lot of FLASHES in my life, however, we totally missed out on children. Not by choice – its’ just the way it was for us. So, I think I lived moments more intensely because of the emptiness inside. You would have to be childless to get the total picture. Even so, I GET that “moment” to which you refer. I completely get it…

    Great blog!

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  4. Karen Milliorn says:

    Well done! I totally enjoy the child-rearing memories. It has always struck me how SERIOUS people make child-rearing sound–they emphasize all that work, worry, & responsibility, but forget to tell us how absolutely hilarious kids can be, as well. (Bill Cosby is the only one I can really remember who tells it “like it is”.). One of my favorite is the evening that my husband sent the kids to their room after giving them “till I count to 3”. But then, we suddenly looked at each other & said, “What do we do if we get to 3?”–We’d always depended on the implied threat & never actually thought what the threat would be! Fortunately, we never had to.

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    • wolfshades says:

      *laughing* It’s funny how kids never think to call their parents on their BS, isn’t it? I feel lucky my kids were too intimidated to try. (Well, not my daughter. I didn’t have to intimidate her at all – I just gave her my patented “I’m not angry, just disappointed” look and she’d burst into tears. Needless to say, I used my power very sparingly and only when absolutely necessary)

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  5. “I’ve allowed to much to happen without my consent.” Me too. Sure, I’ve made some huge choices like selling everything and moving overseas to work with Habitat for Humanity and more recently, taking off for the other side of the country for the sake of love and the pursuit of a dream. But in the everyday stuff of life I’ve been mostly passive, waiting and watching like a spectator in my own life. Genuinely feeling like I have no choice.

    Here at the end of mid-life I’m finally working to live consciously, with INTENTION. The trick for me is to balance my tendency to over think and over examine with the easiness of simply “being”.

    I know I’m a lot less intense than I used to be. It’s something that’s changing in me daily. And my children often comment on it. Mom’s so chill these days. *grins* It makes me happy.

    So I’m living with more and more intention and I’m somehow managing to chill out while doing it and that feels good.

    There’s so much more that I could say but I’ve got to rush off to an appointment. I’m glad I took time to read your blog today. It made me smile and lifted me, Wolfie. Thanks. :)

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    • wolfshades says:

      You’re welcome. And thank you for sharing your thoughts on this too. I don’t know. Some days you want to go forward and purpose to do everything, but there are some days when you get so lost in your own musings that you hit the default “coast” button and get ready for the ride. I don’t have answers. Just questions. Oh, and “The Celestine Prophecy” which I’ve just started reading. My daughter says it shares a note in common with “Jitterbug Perfume”.

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      • I won’t pretend that I always know what I want and can therefore charge forward with purpose each and every moment of my life. There are days that feel lost to simply “being”. Days when I accomplish nothing that’s measurable in any way. I hate it when that happens. Those days feel like wasted days, yet I’m certain they serve some purpose because they seem a part of my Circadian rhythm.

        What I was trying to say in my earlier comment is that I purpose not to let life happen to me. Not to ride it passively. There have been so many times over the years when I’ve said that this or thing just happened. One of the big ones is my marriage. I was young and pregnant and I just let the marriage happen. But that’s bullshit. I designed a dress and helped to hand stitch the pearls and lace. I chose colors and a date and a location. How is that passive? The truth is that it wasn’t what I wanted at the time. I made a CHOICE because I was afraid and it felt like it was my only choice although it clearly was not. I simply lacked the courage to consider other options.

        That was a long time ago. I try to live conscious of the fact that there are multiple potential choices in every situation. Taking the path of least resistance is a choice. It’s not life happening to us. It’s us choosing to “go with the flow”.

        So maybe a better way of saying it would be that I try to live with a sense of responsibility and accountability for my actions. (?) Yes, I think that might be a better explanation.

        One of the things I love about Jitterbug Perfume is the sense of randomness inside of a grander plan. I’m not sure how to communicate what I’m thinking and feeling. There’s a sense of destiny and of choosing.

        Ack, I’m going to abandon that thought.

        What I purpose to do at this point in my life is to live with gratitude and joy as much as possible and with an awareness that I can always choose to walk a different road. Every day is fraught with possibility. I want to live with courage and authenticity. I don’t want to give a shit about what anyone else thinks or expects with the caveat that I will not intentionally inflict pain.

        I think I may have drifted off topic? It may be time for me to write and see what comes. I can feel myself ticking away inside, processing, processing but I’m not sure what it’s all about at the moment. I aim to find out. And I aim to read Celestine Prophecy. You’ve never steered me wrong when it comes to reading — or anything else, actually.

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        • wolfshades says:

          I don’t think I misunderstood your intent with your last comment. The overall experience I have is that for most decisions, I’m aware of the choices I have, and I make them actively. But that (for me) is the small picture. The larger one is (again for me) not as impressive as I’d like. It’s more passive than I would like. You, by comparison have made far FAR grander choices in the bigger picture. I believe the only thing holding me back from making similar ones is a paucity of self-knowledge.

          I am aware, ironically, of coincidences. Ones that are far too numerous to assign to merely chance. The reason that’s ironic is that – again by coincidence, it seems – I’m reading the book we discussed (Celestine Prophecy) that is taking me down paths I didn’t expect, and it seems to answer the question “what should I do?” Not directly, of course, but it’s providing some insight into certain truths of life: who am I? Where do I get/siphon my energy? What lessons have my parents taught me, and what do I take from those?

          Just when you’re confident that you’re somewhat enlightened, along comes something like this and you realize “holy crap. There are vast vistas of stuff I don’t know, but should”. It’s humbling, Kate.

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  6. wheniwasaboy says:

    I would be interested in your thoughts on Celestine Prophecy. Now that you mention it, there are some common themes between CP and Jitterbug. I think I need to reread them both now.

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    • wolfshades says:

      I’ve just started reading it actually so don’t have any notes just yet. But I have to say: it’s fascinating so far (I think I’m up to the sixth chapter or so – where the guy is just getting into the third part of The Manuscript).

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  7. I’m writing novellas in your blog comments!

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