A friend thinks I need to be empowered. According to this friend, people who are empowered “intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle them.” It sounds great, actually, knowing how to handle baffling situations, but all situations are potentially baffling, at least to me. Up close, things sometimes are clear, but if I step back and look at any situation from a broader angle than my singular point of view, the possibilities, parameters, ponderances are incalculable.
Each of our lives, each action of our lives, each interface with the world is like a stone thrown into a pond. All the ensuing ripples affect and change the course of all the other ripples. If you look at a single ripple, the situation is apparent. For example, if I were to spend my savings on getting my ancient VW restored, it would feel good for as long as I was concentrating on that ripple. But what if just beyond that single ripple is an accident, a theft, or some other ripple that would negate that hefty purchase? Conversely, I could keep the savings, deciding that it’s silly to waste money I will need for living expenses on such a gesture, yet the next ripple could bring a windfall that would make the savings seem minor.
The car is a silly example, I know, but it’s a situation I am currently dealing with. Oddly, the body shop guy I went to for an estimate was hesitant about my fixing up the car. He was horrified when I told that I wouldn’t have a garage, and he cautioned me about spending much money because the theft factor would be too great.
Whether I fix the body or not isn’t really a major problem, just a fun thing to think about. The car works beautifully, I have new tires, the rust and body damage from years of use are minor. If I decide not to do the body work, I have other options. Painting flowers on it, for example. I could always have it restored afterward. Or I could . . . whatever.
Beyond the triviality of such a situation, there are greater imponderables that totally baffle me. If I step back and look at the effects of even a single thrown stone, there is no way I can make sense of the endless eddying ripples of those imponderables.
Late yesterday afternoon I talked to a friend who had recently been released from the hospital. Her rheumatoid arthritis is destroying her lungs, and she’d been admitted for pneumonia and various other life-threatening complications. She coughed and hacked and gasped during our conversation, trying to breathe and speak through the pain. She is my age, still fairly young, and yet she is dying a painful and protracted death. The situation baffles me completely. How is it possible that she is dealing with such horror? She finds it ironic that she is now suffering the torments her husband had to deal with while he died, torments she blamed herself for, but I find the things life does to us incomprehensible. I have problems, but nothing compared to hers.
Then early last evening, I came across a heartbreaking blog post, I stand quietly about a mother who can only stand and wait while her child deals with the agony and bewilderment of a sensory processing disorder. How is it possible that some mothers have children who don’t have to worry about how their clothes feel against their skin? How is it possible some mothers can’t hug their child because that simple touch makes the child scream in agony?
How is it possible those two ripples touched my life on the same day within a couple of hours of each other?
The other night I was in an accident. A friend thinks I should sue, but I cannot swear I was in no way to blame. I can see my single ripple — I was driving along with my headlights on, noticing my surroundings, noticing the car that idled in the middle of a turn lane off to my left. I did not in any way instigate the woman’s turning abruptly and speeding directly across the road in front of me, as if I weren’t even there. She claims my lights were off, that she didn’t see me. I drive an old car. The headlights don’t wrap around as with modern cars, so maybe she didn’t see me. Maybe I wasn’t even there for that moment — according to the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, until I was observed I didn’t exist. How can I comprehend all the ripples that brought us two women together in such a way? How could I have known before I left the scene, that the two of us would hug on parting? In my debates with myself about whether to get my car restored, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of an accident. Could those thoughts have somehow predestined a collision?
I intuitively made a decision that night. Since she didn’t want to involve insurance companies, I agreed that we would both pay for our own damage and end the matter there. It’s only afterward, when other ripples intruded, when people thought I was nuts for leaving even with the cop’s permission, when people thought I should have gotten her name and phone number and sued her that I became baffled. Not at my actions. I did what I wanted. But baffled at the imponderables. Do I believe that the accident was in no way my fault? Of course — I know it wasn’t. Do I believe that the accident could have in some unknown way been my fault? Of course — I can’t know that it wasn’t.
Still, whatever anyone thinks, I would so much rather be a person who hugs a transgressor than a person who sues. Maybe I do need to be empowered (whatever that means). And maybe, just maybe I’m doing fine on my own.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.