It occurred to me this morning about 3 a.m., that we’re all out at sea, cruising to places we think we want to go to, or the opposite, getting stuck miles from shore. We wait. The skies rumble as the waves engorge and we think we’re going to die, and some of us do, but most of us don’t, and then it gets calm again and the heavens open and the rainbow appears and we know we are safe and good things will happen.
It occurred to me at 4:45 a.m., weeks before my 66th birthday, almost a year after retiring from 20 years in the classroom, that I’m an old motor boat, sputtering and stalling; I may capsize. But I probably won’t. But I might.
It occurred to me at 6:30 a.m. as my roomies—The Two Amigos–stirred, and my former teaching colleagues poured coffee in preparation for igniting the Future of America, and my ex husband, Bruce, breathed in-harmony with the comatose patient lying next to him at the rehab facility, that best-laid plans are like sailing in the wind with your eyes closed: You hope for the best, prepare for the worst, but in the end, none of us are really in control; there are mightier forces at play.
It occurred to me at 6:55 a.m. that we’re all actors participating in a real-life drama. We wake up, do what we do, think what we think, get shoved around by the do-this and do-that’s of our respective careers and life circumstances, and we are basically held together by duct tape and string; that we all are, in fact, vulnerable to the elements and opportunistic, rat-toothed, mean-spirited humans (fill-in-the-blank). At any moment, who are we kidding, we could unravel. So we stay busy, stay important, stay goal-oriented.
But step off the boat, we might drown.
At 7:15 a.m. I wonder, what keeps a person steadfast, purposeful, in control even under the most dire circumstances?
It occurred to me after my first cup of coffee, that we think we have it all together, but we don’t know for certain until we’re tested. Not small tests, like the jolts of a malfunctioning electrical system, but actually capsizing and being thrown overboard with your left leg wrapped around an anchor chain.
As I step outside and scan the horizon, I lust for certainties; a steady, mapped-out course. I long for conformation, desperate to be drenched in the spiritual, church-choir affirmation that assures me I’m headed in the right direction.“Give me a sign,” I pray.
I got one from a man chained to a wheelchair, a 72-year-old former photojournalist whosefoot and ankle are about to be amputated, whose entire life turned topsy-turvy a couple of months ago, who’s learned to be more open and sensitive as he cherishes simple pleasures like a cup of instant coffee at bedside and an hour visit from his ex-wife.
Bruce. The guy I divorced. The man I have fretted over, journaled about, screamed, cried, hugged, hoped for, counseled with, and in the end, loved and could never fully let go of as a friend, gave me one of the most valuable gifts I ever received; a book, “Nowhere for Very Long”, the story of a woman who was determined to change her life by chucking it all and going on the ultimate van road trip. Inside, he inscribed, “Dear Janet, I hope this book will inspire you to the great adventure surely ahead of you. As the jacket note states, ‘…from lost to found to lost again…this time on purpose.’ Love, Bruce.”
“There’s more,” he said. “I made a bookmark.” He was beaming. Tucked in the center of the book was a tiny fabric sunflower taped to piece of scrapaper, scrawled with jagged words he penned: “Live your dream. Have an adventure.” On the same page, was a check for $2,000, the IRS refund money he desperately needed, but insisted on giving it to me. “I mean it, I’ve thought about this a lot; I want you to have it.”
It is impossible to explain the profound impact of Bruce’s magnanimous gesture. Overwhelmed, in tears, Bruce’s blessing for me to go forth and follow my dreams even during his darkest hours is something I will never, ever forget. In his bleakest moment, Bruce placed someone else’s life above his own.
It occurred to me at 7:45 a.m. as the ladies showered and prepared for work and Monet climbed back into bed, that that feature film we’re all starring in, has tender, close-up moments like the one I just described. Angels who keep us afloat, keep us steady, keep us dog-paddling in the foggy swells when we’re uncertain where we’re headed or if we’ll even make it.
No one knows the affect–both positive and negative–one’s actions can have on another soul. An unsolicited Starbuck’s, a surprise car wash, even a homemade bookmark, have the power to positively change the course of a person’s day, maybe even life.
It occurred to me as I watched the sun rise above the silk oak tree and imagined our daughter teaching her energetic fourth-graders, Bronson eating his four fried eggs, his papa driving to work, Jack wrestling with his new puppy, and my nieces and nephews, brother and sister-in-law all starting their days, that today might be a good day to go sailing.
It might get bumpy.
The wind might steer me off course.
But maybe, just maybe, it won’t.
Bruce and I chat about many things during our almost daily visits at Sunnyside Rehab Center, from family members he wishes he could help, to regrets about decisions he’s made in the past. But he’s learning, as am I, to accept life as it unfolds. Which makes me think of the last line of a Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”, I memorized in third grade: And that made all the difference. It seems appropriate to end today’s blog with Frost’s advise:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.