We are creatures of ruts. Ruts keep us self-regulated, self-herded, and auto-piloted, functioning along a thin line of choices -- except, over time, they are no longer choices. These ruts may have been choices once, but are now only pre-set governors of our possible responses to life, captured and restricted by our previously made decisions and choices.
It's hard to see a rut when you're in it. Not looking, and not seeing, are part of the energy-saving bargain of a rut: There's no need to waste time or energy on considering options, making decisions, testing the waters, or re-considering steps.
Not much of a bargain, though, when all one can do is plod on forward, shlep backwards, or freeze in place. Creative types will occasionally look up from the confines of the rut, and even jump up now and then, prairie-dogging, office-cubicle-worker-style, to get the lay of the land.
Even in a rut, there are moments when recognizing the rut become possible -- moments when the sun is high in the sky, and the angle of light allows something other than the usual shadows to be traced on the walls and floor of the rut.
But, light is a messenger bringing only awareness. It is no more responsible for what it finds in the rut with you than a car's headlights, or a camp flashlights, reveal. If you are someone who finds it enjoyable to see your way clearly to Truth, then light is a helpful thing. Light is not very helpful to anyone who prefers to muddle on, unaware and unconscious.
Ruts come in many sizes and shapes, and many frequencies and flavors. Ruts populate many different aspects of our lives. Once in a while, it's possible to get a sunlight-flash of recognition by spotting, and understanding, the fact of the rut, its nature, and your participation in it.
Rarer still is the eye-squinting, nuclear-flash brilliance of the inner mind's eye realization of living life itself in autopilot trench. This is probably more common than any of us might think.
After all, when you come down to it, all that any of us consciously know -- or remember -- is being alive. Put enough days together, back to back, in a row, of eating and breathing, and we get used to that trend. We even come to expect it. We lose track in the daily rush and huddles, in the moment-to-moment crush and muddle of our lives, in the bash and puddles of being alive, of living, of there being any other possibility.
Ruts, and an unthinking life itself, speed our way to one destination only: Taking for granted our being alive in first place.
* * * * *
Give or take a few lost, misplaced, errant, and exploded brain cells, one year ago today I was looking down the decidedly unfriendly, and actively hostile, double barrels of the shotgun we've come to call a cancer diagnosis.
Come to remember, it was more like standing out in the middle of a Formula One race course, having suddenly teleported there, Star Trek style, by complete accident, still momentarily sparkly all over, about to firm up into solid matter, but instinctively and keenly aware of the metallic mass and sheer tonnage hurtling toward me -- and a shocking awareness of having little time left to do anything but soil myself, mightily.
It was a jagged, craggy, mind-boggler of a time. It was the start of days where my clunky understanding of cranky, crooked, and crinkled, as concepts, were all high-velocity, wind-tunnel tested.
My diagnosis provided me a brand-new understanding of the mitigating, contractual, fine-print terms of life, such as Maintained Maximums, Orders of Magnitude, and Whole 'nother Levels of Existence. Getting a new Lease on Life is not easy but hard won. Once won, there is the hope that, this time, it will last.
During such soul-searching events as a cancer diagnosis, there is the hope that it can last.
So: Whatever atoms that were assigned to me that were leftover from the race-course flattening and pulverizing, were then marched and crushed and crunched into vapors, mists, and ethers in the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that followed. I went from the sick, thudding-meat-impact of realization on the grill of a vehicle via the race-car circuit, to the hot grill of the rumpled, stomped, and trampled barbecuing and manic clog dancing of a May Day parade, in Moscow, in Red Square, at the height of the Cold War.
Tanks, missile launchers, troops and all. Lots and lots and lots of them.
* * * * *
The cancer I had was an intimidating strain of Bugatti Veyron -- the fastest car in the world. Its top speed is 250 miles per hour. It can go from zero to sixty miles per hour in a heart-stopping two-and-a-half seconds, about the time it takes to blink 17 or 18 times, if you're in the eye-winking Olympics. Or, about how long it takes to run 39 feet, if you're a very fast human in a highly-motivated foot race with a hungry cheetah or an irritable bear right on your tail.
Te prospect of lacing up one's high mileage, old-beater sneakers for a foot race to beat an opponent like a Bugatti Veyron is demoralizing at best.
Luckily, my course of treatment was a Typhoon fighter jet -- a supersonic jaw-dropper with a top speed approaching Mach 2. Thing is, I had no idea I'd be strapped to the jet's wing in this race. In a wing in a hospital, maybe, but not TO the wing.
You'd probably be surprised at the terrific amount of friction and heat, and general uncomfortableness, and rash, that can result from riding out on a jet plane wing in your PJs.
I know I sure was.
* * * * *
In a barely-related development, my workhorse inkjet printer expired the other day. Just like any other day, it powered up, it tried to cycle, it seized up, and it was gone, completely stroked-out. There was no lingering, buggy illness; the end was quick and merciful.
An autopsy by a repairer-recycler showed the cause of death was a fried logic board -- something rare and expensive to find, and even more spendy to buy and replace. Resuscitation was simply not a viable option. As guardian and next of kin, I showed the Do Not Resuscitate paperwork the inkjet had itself printed out years earlier, when I first adopted it, to the technician. We agreed to go no further in attempts to ferry it back across the river Styx.
As we all do when tragedy strikes, we somehow find the inner strength and spiritual resources necessary to fumble on for a while, until we can stop faking it, and become naturally and normally active, perky, upbeat, and trusting once more.
In the healing process, I found there have been many advances since I made room in my life for the inkjet. For one thing, laser printers are no longer the size of railroad boxcars, and, surprisingly, require fewer than 14 technicians to operate. In a stunning display of my own versatility, if I do say so, I myself -- and with only the limited training available from ignoring the operator's manual -- have been able to coax a number of finished pages from this new laser printer.
Nothing will take the place of that trusty inkjet. We go back quite a way. I suppose it's only natural to remember all those reports we churned out at 3 a.m., all those memos and maps and coupons, tax forms, and even the first few chapters of a half-dozen aborted novels.
Mercy killings of sour, unwieldy novels aside, I am again struck by how often it is in our country, and in our times, that it is simply cheaper to get a New One rather than fix the Old One. The cost-benefit analysis always comes up on the side of Junk the Old and Embrace the New -- with the right sequence of 16-digit numbers on the plastic, Trust Me, I'm Good For It card, in any of the available rainbow colors and flavors.
Landfills always win consideration over factories, cemeteries over birthplaces, finishes over starts. This is the start-of-the-art reality regarding the state of life, for the life cycle of our product companions, at least.
I am simply glad, in the end, that this same equation did not apply to humans, in general, nor to me, personally, and that my fiancee decided, in tandem with my fuzzy, ailing wishes, that it would be much more advisable to fix the old me than to seek out a new one of me.
Not that it was cheap to fix me. Far from it. After all, nearly unbridled Capitalism is practiced -- and repeatedly honed, stropped, and perfected -- around here, and by gum, a whole host and horde of people and agencies and groups and providers and manufacturers and so on, all need to make a considerable profit on my disease. Or on my comparative wellness, as you prefer.
(Yes, I know: Hate the system, not the result. Got it.)
But, still, it remains true that I could have been replaced by another place-holder unit, like the laser for the inkjet. My fiancee could have easily decided to cash me in for a down-payment on a newer-model fiance.
And, while it is true, thanks to our individual uniqueness as humans, that you can't find another one just like me, laying around just anywhere, it is certainly possible for me to have been replaced.
Trust me: For a while we both looked into this out-of-body possibility some.
* * * * *
Surviving, I have found, does nothing to increase one's awareness of the reason for one's life. It sheds no light on one's possible missions. It presents no answers or reasons, even if you really work at it -- fevered or unfevered, ill or well, conscious or not -- while in bed. Or anywhere else. And not from a lack of hard meditation.
Surviving does, I have found, decrease one's desire to remain unpalatably rutted, and exponentially increases one's appetite.
* * * * *
The late George Carlin had a bit of nice imagery in the line, "Hand me that piano." The literal and figurative equivalent for survivors, I'm thinking, is, "Hand me that buffet."
* * * * *
(The Director's Cut, Deleted Scenes, Extended-Branching Analogy: After all, life can be a heady banquet, even if you've been relegated to sammiches of stale bread, dry cheese, and luncheon meat well past its sell-by date. The trick is knowing where to shop.)
* * * * *
Where does all of this brouhaha land? It comes down on the runway, a little too fast for treacherous conditions, with its tail trying to occasionally squirm, slide, and bend around to meet its own nose, in a good, stable place, aiming for a nicer hangar.
It's been a spiritually shredding 12 months in which the desire for bodily-shedding my own mass has been, at times, all but irresistible. The landing pronouncement from my doctor-team copilots, however, is as singular and memorable as the process of in-flight recovery was filled with far too much plural-everything now trying to be forgotten.
The mass is no longer going critical, and is under control -- even shrinking. These are very good words for our small nuclear family.
As for ruts, the sun is high in the sky. I've had the nuclear flash in my mind's eye. And I once again see the beauty in the glib cliche of the bumper sticker that reads, "The best things in life aren't things."
It's sometimes easy to lose track of what's really important, after a while, and get into a myopic, unchanging, downward-spiraling perspective. We're creatures of habit, spending a great deal of our lives in ruts.
In the 2.5 billion seconds we all more-or-less get in life, you'd do well to keep a few hundred handy for a really cold, gray, rainy winter day.
I can be very thick-headed and a slow learner, both stubborn (down-side) and persistent (up-side). There are lots of ways to warm to life and float out of a rut, without waiting for it to fill with slowly-freezing water.
See: I recommend a periodic system reboot for everyone -- just not a hard reboot like cancer, if you can help it.
Bonus video -- one heckuva race: http://videos.komando.com/watch/391/viral-videos-worlds-fastest-car-races-a-fighter-jet
What's in a second? http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/12/23/just-a-second-steve-jenkins/
Typhoon Eurofighter: http://www.eurofighter.com/
Styx, the river: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styx
Styx, the theatrical, ain't-we-just-too-precious band: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XcKBmdfpWs
Styx, the much nicer cover band: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNQdfHU7Vws
And so on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styx_(band)
Talk about stretching connections in life, here's today's "What's-That-Got-to-Do-With-Anything?" Blue Plate Special: Check out Nesselrode right here: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/american/nesselrode?showCookiePolicy=true
Bon appetit, survivors!