Thursday, May 29, 2014


Clunk. There's a sharp thud. The chassis of the car has smacked hard against the raised concrete speed bump on the road. It occurs to me in a flash: Forest Gump had it all wrong. Life isn't like a box of chocolates. Life actually isn't "like" anything. Life is one speed bump after another and how we negotiate this endless series of bumps completely determines its manner and course.

So, back to the speed bump:  There are two ways to drive over a speed bump. One can slow down, almost to a stop, essentially "easing" over the bump so that one barely feels it or, alternatively, accelerate into it, assuming that speed will lift the car into the air Chitty Chitty Bang Bang style, and nary a bump will be felt. (Oh, and there's also the non-confrontational manner of avoiding the bump entirely by veering slightly off the road. Since that doesn't really count as "coping" I've discounted it here.) A recent discussion with my son over the preferred course of action, held while careening along in his rickety 14 year old Ford Fiesta, (this type of subject matter is par for the course during our outings,) prompted my realization that the manner one chooses, slow or fast, is an excellent metaphor for one's approach to daily challenges. In the end, it leaves no middle mode, no way to just slither through, to feel one's way. You either go for it or you don't. The speed bump as a metaphor—I love it!
Of course there are bumps, and there are bumps. This metaphor doesn't extend to disease and death but rather, those ostensibly benign challenges that can be real thorns in one's side. For example, some months back I developed a problem with my right foot which has forced me to stop running. This is no small issue for this admittedly fanatical runner. Having invested quite a few years in this inane activity this has been nothing less than devastating. Every day I drive along the road and hiss at the runners happily jogging along. How come they get to run while I can't!

I have been, proverbially, "benched!" Years ago, while studying in Ann Arbor, I was quite jealous of my friends back on the East Coast. How had I choose to bury myself (quite literally in the winter) in the Mid West when there was obviously a whole lot of fun and actually, "life", going on back East. A friend of mine put it succinctly: living in the Mid West is very much like being made to sit on the bench in a baseball game. The whole team is on the field. The whole team is busy getting on with it, playing the game, while a few poor souls are stuck sitting on the bench--just watching and waiting. Harbach's The Art of Fielding, which I read while planted on my stationary bicycle since, yep, I can no longer run, confirmed that there is simply no worse punishment.

The most pathetic part is that it has dawned on me that being benched, sitting on the sidelines while everyone else is up and on the move, is kind of my present modus operandi. It extends far beyond my foot injury and well into my personal/professional life. I have the sense, daily, that everyone else is moving forward, advancing, actually going somewhere, whereas I'm stuck, and if not entirely stuck--because I refuse to be entirely stuck--essentially sidelined.  What an awful word!! It suggests other unpleasant adjectives such as dried-up, useless, wrinkled, unimportant and past one's prime. To make matters worse it's part and parcel of that ugly mantra running through my head: "Malaise! Malaise! Middle-aged Malaise!" (Obviously reading Alice Munro's last collection of short stories wasn't a good move. In fact, I think it almost pushed me right over the edge with all that gravel leading absolutely no where at all.)

In some ways I feel that there's no point in even trying to get back into the game—it might be wiser to just raise my hands in defeat and call it a day. Seriously…I mean that would probably be the easiest option…kind of like easing oneself over that speed bump. Yet maybe, just maybe, this malaise, another obstacle that must be forged in order to get to the other side, demands another approach. And ironically, I've come to this conclusion precisely because I've been sidelined. Having another perspective, an opportunity to watch that "parade" we know as life where everyone's so busy being in the thick of things, desperately advancing with their minds tick-tick ticking, has actually instigated my enlightenment. 

In a nutshell, being stuck has allowed me the opportunity to realize that this "period" really is just one among many. Life really does boil down to how we negotiate each obstacle, one by one, because they're simply not going to stop popping up and getting in our way. Exactly how we get over, beyond and to the other side, since hovering for too long isn't an option, is what it's all about. It's time, indeed well beyond time, to take one giant step forward—or rather—put the pedal to the medal. That's it. I think I've got it. I'll try it out first and let you know how it goes. Vroom.