Thursday, September 15, 2005

The End. The Beginning. The Middle.

This is the problem with books and movies: they give us the illusion that life happens in compact, meaningful chunks, with an obvious beginning, middle, and end. Here's how I think it actually works in the "real world":

The End. Most of us slog through our day-to-day in a daze of metaphysical subconsciousness; by which I mean, we let our immediate worries, tasks, fears, and automatic emotional reactions flood the thought gates. This leaves only a very narrow space, somewhere smooshed flat up against one wall of the perception waiting room, for that entity sometimes called Consciousness, or The Observor, or that-part-of-you-that-is-greater-than-your-body-and-upbringing-and-cultural-delusions, to hang out. They say that meditation quiets the mind, effectively weeding out all those annoying flood thoughts so that we can stop living inside our crazy heads in the past or future, and start enjoying the present moment that is "reality". My point? Save for those special people who can sit still long enough to meditate (I, sadly, am not one of them. Yet.), or those even special-er people who had the good fortune to be reincarnated as the Dalai Lama each generation, most of us require a good kick in the head to jiggle the stupid mundanity out of our ears; and, for better or worse, this usually takes the physical experience form of an "End". An accident, a disappointment, a heartbreak, an illness, a never hear people say, "wow, after having an amazing time at the party last night, I really know what's important in life; I'm going to stop smoking, start exercising, and go visit my grandma in the nursing home to tell her how much I love her." But what *does* happen is that endings inevitably lead to new beginnings. So in my book, the real story always starts at The End.

The Beginning. Immediately after something ends, a new thing begins. Here's the tricky part, though: most of us think that what we want in life is an "end result", but if things continue to stay stuck, what we're probably dealing with is a different story that has to end before the new one, the one that will actually lead to our desired goal, can begin. The even trickier part, I've come to realize, is that (1) we humans aren't always very adept at figuring out how to end the old stories, because we hate saying goodbye to stuff, and (2) sometimes the ending that leads to the new beginning is quite painful, and at the time doesn't feel like it could possibly lead anywhere good. I think the key to getting through difficult endings is to get through them, find a way to ultimately cherish them, and stay open to the new beginning that may lead you in directions you never dreamed.

The Middle. After all is said and done, I like the idea of understanding life as a series of overlapping stories, each with a beginning, middle, and end. But since the good things in life happen, I propose, with the end first and then the beginning, it's up to us to craft each narrative back into its traditional story structure. That's called making sense of one's life, or meaning-making. There are infinite versions of each of these stories, so it's up to us to choose which ones we want to remember the strongest, and how we want to remember them--some people find ways to reinterpret disasters as having some benefit in jumpstarting broken patterns into a fresh start in the right direction. Others seem to remember even the happiest of times as the worst of times. And that, my friends, is the worst tragedy of all--as Aimee Mann sings--condemning the future to death so it can match the past.

That's all for now. An abstract and somewhat stream-of-consciousness commentary on the most recent endings in the last two weeks of my life: the hurricane, the sudden and incomprehensible death of the daughter of my mother's dear friend, and having to say goodbye to my two little patients on the psychiatry unit, in whose tragic lives I'd become perhaps a bit too emotionally invested.

Even More Ideas, None of Which Are Helping Me Complete My Patient Writeups

Pampering for Pamperers: A private chef service for new parents. You pop out the babies, we'll pop dinner into the oven every evening until the little one(s) (and you) finally sleep through the night. You've got enough on your plate with a new baby in the house; be sure to call us so we can get enough on your plate for you to survive those magical first weeks.

Wax On, Wax Off: Tired of sitting in those stuffy waiting rooms while your car gets all the primping? Jealous of the attention your little Corolla gets after its suds 'n shine, while you still have those same stubbly legs as before? Suffer no longer! Now, both you and your car can get waxed at the same time! You'll both leave the carwash with "skin" smooth as a baby's butt. Now *that's* service.

Procrastination at its best: I made up a new joke!

What do you call four people playing tennis in Alaska?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How I Came Into Possession of One Can of Maxwell House Rich Original Coffee

I was stopped at a traffic light, across from the gas station in downtown New Haven. I noticed something weird going on in the car parked next to me--the driver, a man, seemed to have just walked off in some sort of huff. I think he gave me A Look before he left. Curious, I pulled up slightly to get a better view of the passenger's side, er, passenger. It was a woman, seemed around middle aged, reclining slightly in her seat, eyes closed and one hand clamped on her temples as if exasperated or pained. Maybe there was a disagreement? I decided it was best to ignore the situation and refocused my attention on Delilah's latest caller.

Suddenly, I was jarred from my radio reverie--that lady in the car had roused and now seemed to be trying to get my attention. She got it. I opened the window, and she said, "I know this is going to sound weird, but my boyfriend and I ran out of gas, and we have no cash, and I just went grocery shopping....can I sell you some groceries for real cheap?" I glanced at the light, which was still red, then looked back at her somewhat quizzically. Assuming this was a scam (albeit a rather bizarre one), I politely shook my head and told her that I had no cash on me either--which was, in fact, true. Then the light turned green, so I headed past the gas station and rounded the corner onto Elm.

Stopped at a second light moments later, I had second thoughts. What if she was telling the truth? Why did I so automatically assume that she was trying to manipulate me somehow? Is this the curse of city living--we are bombarded daily by so many who ask for money that we not only become desensitized to their plights, but also resentful and defensive towards any stranger's plea for help? I felt a pang of guilt...just as the orange empty tank sign flashed its warning signal on my dash. Speaking of running out of gas...what irony. It suddenly occurred to me that if I were to run out of gas right now, and my debit card was inexplicably denied, I might find myself in the very same predicament as this couple. Guilt melted into empathy. I let myself continue to round corners until I had completed a full circle and once again pulled up to my gasless, cashless new friends.

"Excuse me, maam..." I ventured through my open window. She poked her head out.
"Hey, it's me again." This was sort of awkward. Now *she* was the skeptical one.
"So...I don't have any cash, as I said, but I do have a credit card, and I actually need some gas myself. If you can pull up to the station across the street, I'll pay for $5 in gas." I wasn't sure how she would respond, but she immediately accepted my offer and jumped into the driver's seat to pull out behind me.

We did the deed. I paid for this lady's 1.2 gallons of gas (of course, I forgot that in today's market, five dollars barely buys enough gas to make it out of the gas station!), she thanked me profusely, and we parted. But not before she practically forced me to take something from her grocery shopping; it was either coffee or some sort of pasta, so I chose coffee. Maxwell House Rich Original.

And that's how I got it.