I hope that you are doing well in these challenging times for all of us. Each of us is being forced to confront some of our fears and trepidations, some of our concerns and areas of insecurities, and come to terms with not knowing what will unfold or happen in the upcoming period of time looming ahead. These days I sometimes feel as if I am walking a tightrope while navigating an ever-moving river that is taking me, and you, and all of us somewhere…but where? And when will we arrive?
And what will it look like wherever we end up landing: personally and professionally, with our loved ones and in the whole wide world?
I am sitting here tonight in front of my computer thinking of how many totally unexpected surprises have erupted in the world during the short span of my lifetime. Global events, like the Fall of the Berlin Wall or the bombing of the World Trade Center. Family events like my father leaving my mother on Christmas Eve, in the mid-1960s or my beautiful aunt wasting away with multiple sclerosis. And personal events that are, well, quite personal.
All of this is to say that instead of assuming stability and a clear unfolding of our lives along a pre-ordained path, my life has seemed more like an unexpected roller coaster ride with some great thrills and some really down times too. And moments, like now, when we just don’t know and can’t even predict what tomorrow might hold.
Thus is life on planet Earth.
My sophomore College roommate was named Jenni. She was studying to be a neurobiologist and would spend countless hours doing mini surgeries into mouse skulls to insert electrodes to measure their impulses when given food and other stimuli. Every once in a while, she would invite me to the lab to see how the mice were doing. I took her up on her offer once. The poor creatures had these strange contraptions on the top of their head, which she would sometimes (with professor supervision) hook up to some wires for tests. She told me quite a few of her mice experiments didn’t make it, and that she had less than a 50% success rate with getting the electrodes in the right spot in the brain to make a meaningful experiment and collect the data she needed.
I admit to being a bit horrified to see all this, and never returned to the lab again, despite numerous follow-up invites on her part.
Jenni and I were in many ways polar opposites in how we approached our lives, a reality we would sometimes discuss with great interest. She was a double Taurus while I am a double Scorpio, so we sometimes accredited our quite different ways to making choices to this factor. Still, I was sometimes quite in awe of my good friend and roommate because she could devise a list of pros and cons for just about any choice she was faced with. For instance, she decided to marry her husband by looking at his pros and cons, and deciding that the pros outweighed the cons. She decided when to conceive her first child that way, as well as many other important life decisions.
Me, on the other hand, was quite often unsure of where I was heading, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to spend my life with.
That was all many years ago, and our 40-year College reunion was supposed to have been held in June but was cancelled. But last I spoke to Jenni, she had become a successful neuropsychologist, as planned. She had had two children, as planned. She had lived in great places carefully selected, as planned.
And then there were the unplanned parts of life. Her daughter had had a breakdown and was severely depressed. Then she got better, but her son took his life the day he graduated from high school. Her husband did the same one year later. Now her life is totally different than planned. “It’s not better or worse than I had planned,” she told me. “It’s just different.”
She just remarried a year or so ago a friend of her first husband. They both believe that her first husband (a man I recall so vividly from college days when the two of them huddled all night in a single bed in the room I shared with them) want them to be together. “I’m happy,” She told me.
I’ve been trying to deepen my creative writing skills during this period that finds us all more at home than usual. To do so, I’ve been following several interesting courses on-line from the University of Iowa, which has a renowned writing program. The most recent class I listened to was most interesting, as it was from two writer’s giving advice to us. One, a published author from Pakistan, commented about how many people might ask you what your book is about, or what you are working on. “Don’t waste your time,” she told us, “trying to explain your work to them. They probably aren’t that interested in the details.” Then she suggested a most intriguing idea: “No matter who asks you about your book, just tell them – it’s about love.”
I’ve been holding that phrase in my heart and mind since hearing it. “It’s about love.” And it seems to me that her advice has a broader applicability than just a book one might be laboring away at. It seems to me that, ultimately, life is really “all about love.”
It may not be predictable, it can often be unpleasant, and it can sometimes be downright painful. Our plans may explode, our lives be forced in directions we never would have guessed, and the unexpected (such as we are all living through right now) may raise its ugly head more often than we would like. And yet through it all, whatever the situation maybe, we can always have the option to consider how to focus upon it with love.
Even if we don’t like what is happening or even know where we are heading. Especially in these cases, we may be offered the chance to do a marathon training in love.
Published 8/2020 in Monadnock Shopper