Incomplete Beings [short story group]
This week my short story group assignment was to write about a “real life” incident, so I re-edited a previous reflection from when I was beginning treatment for what would later be diagnosed as CIPD. Enjoy(?)
April 13, 2012 8PM – Waiting for my MRI for a possible pinched nerve that’s interrupted my life and my sleep for over the past six weeks. The girlfriend offered to drive me for the scan and is sitting next to me cruising the web on her iPad. Life certainly changed beginning in 2011 to 2012, 16-months at the time of the MRI. I was thinking about the changes that April afternoon while I was trying to catch a nap after presenting my one-hour continuing education session (on meaningful student engagement) that morning. Besides not sleeping lately, I finished up writing the presentation at 2AM the night before and really wanted to drift away, but my mind wouldn’t let me go so easily.
I had been listening to a podcast, Skepticality, and the speaker was talking about how fallible human memories are and how our brain actually protects us from certain realizations. He used the example of how it helps us function to not realize when we’re driving, for example, that we’re essentially sitting on a comfortable couch surround by a thin shell of plastic and aluminum hurtling down the road at speeds that are not survivable were we to come to a sudden stop… lovely thought to entertain as I was trying to drift off to sleep. In my darkened room, alone, gently embraced by my memory-foam pillows and mattress I had a momentary wispy image in my mind of how we are such transitory incomplete beings, capable of such passion and sharply focused moments of realization, and then like a bit of fog on the horizon, gone.
It would not do to remain fixated on how briefly we exist. More than twenty-years ago, I would lose track of a friend and then hear of his or her death and thus became more aware that there would be an end to this story and an end to my part in the narrative. The struggle was to keep that awareness as an inspiration to bring to each day its due focus and meaningfulness, to not let the days slip by like an endless supply of water. So I managed by imagining that there were things that I needed to do, that I had a mission to accomplish in the few years that I would have. When I started teaching in the mid-90’s working with my students was part of the mission. But there was always a sense that there was something missing, something more that I needed to do. Working with elementary and middle school students, I realized that I was probably the only adult male in my students’ lives to spend so much time with them, day in and day out, and how important it was for me to be fully there for them and not let myself slip into a “going through the motions” mode. But, for most of this time I had no one special in my life, and I knew that I only had so much emotional energy to give to my students as long as I was living such an emotionally disconnected unbalanced life. It was an equation that I didn’t seem to have the means of balancing. So I stayed focused on the mission, trying to not become so entangled in the demands of the day to day that can lull one into imaging that the goal is just to get through the day and make it home in the evening, to work until losing consciousness and repeat it all the next day until that day when one doesn’t get up from one’s slumber.
Fast forward to 2011 through 2013 when I was fortunate enough to become close to another soul, one who had grown up on the opposite end of the country, who had been emotionally bruised by those closest to her but through the frustrations found connection and hope and meaning. We are such flawed, incomplete beings, but I had so much fun. At what would turn out to become a very difficult time in my life, I was glad that my story continued long enough for me to enjoy our afternoons laying in her back porch hammock listening to the rain fall, or the warm afternoons having lunch in my back porch, or slow dancing at some smoky dive bar, or driving out to the cape in the early dawn hours to watch some crazy launch, or ending every day looking forward to snuggling on the couch watching one complete sci-fi series after another (including all nine seasons of the X-Files). Alas, the illness that prompted the MRIs in 2012, would threaten my ability to walk and independence through the remainder of 2012. And even as I was recovering in 2013, the illness proved to be one thing too many for my girlfriend and our connection was severed in April of 2013, a year after that first MRI.
We are incomplete beings with little hope of being much more than what we already are. But that hasn’t hindered us from not trying to push the rock just a bit further each day. It was fun to have someone to share my story with, for those brief moments that we had, each day, like the whiff of fog off the shore, so real but gone so quickly.