There is a scene at the start of a quirky Indie film – Interstate 60 – where a man on a bicycle cycles past a parked car just as the driver of the car is getting out. The driver is on his mobile phone and not paying attention to the world around him. The cyclist crashes into the suddenly opened door and falls into the middle of the street. The driver of the car assists the cyclist to his feet, and as the two men stand in the road trying to deal with their awkward meeting a truck comes barreling down the street. The cyclist sees it and acts quickly to save himself and the driver of the car. Rather than be relieved that his life has been saved, the driver of the car has a temper tantrum. His suit is ruined because the cyclist threw him onto the ground when he was saving his life, and his mobile phone, which he dropped, was crushed by the truck. He starts screaming that his life is ruined and he wishes none of this had happened. The cyclist asks him if that is truly his wish, and the driver screams over and over that he wishes none of this had ever happened.
The scene starts from the beginning but events play out differently. The cyclist stops his bicycle and does not cycle passed the car. The driver opens his door, steps out into to street, talking on his mobile phone, the truck comes barrelling down the road, hits the driver of the car and kills him. The cyclist watches all of this and then remarks that some people just don’t know what to wish for.
Please note I may have some details of the scene a bit wrong. I could watch it again as it’s on LoveFilm and be more precise but that’s not the point and not my style. I was only half watching it due to being distracted by the thought that I’d seen the film before. I had in fact seen it before, and enjoyed it. I switched it off shortly after that scene. However it stuck in my mind and it occurred to me that it was a very good example of a gift in a curse.
The driver thought that the incident with the cyclist was the worst thing that could have happened to him, a curse, just one more bad thing on a day of bad things, the last straw, which is why he wished that it had never happened and meant it. He was caught up in a drama which was playing out in his life, focused on the conversation he was having on his mobile and getting more and more stressed out. He had become separated from the world around him due to his intense focus on his problems. To him the cyclist was an intruder, a trespasser who had crossed an imaginary boundary and ruined his life which was already bad enough as it was. Being separated from the world around him caused him to have a blind spot which stopped him from seeing how interconnected everything which happens to us and in our life is. He did not notice how the random accident had saved his life from a far greater accident.
What the driver did is not unusual. We all do it. We get so caught up in one problem that we lose sight of everything else.
Our lives are an interplay of merging and separating, of being together and alone. The two sides make a whole and we see-saw between them, now and then reaching the sweet spot of balance between the two. Life is fluid, so we’re not meant to remain in one place. Feeling completely detached from the world is just as important as feeling immersed in it. However when we get stuck on one side we develop a fear of the other side. And that’s what happened with the driver. The incident with the cyclist triggered a reaction of fear. He was angry, but anger is often a fearful response. Ultimately his fear came out in the fervent wish that the incident had not occurred.
Our fear makes us want to return to a safe place, even if that place is not safe at all and we know it, at least it is familiar. The unfamiliar tends to make us feel as though we have run off the edge of a cliff, like in a cartoon, and are suspended over an abyss waiting to drop now that we have stopped and realised there is no ground beneath our feet.
How many times have you wished for something new to happen, something different, something which would change your life, then when something new and different happened, your life is changed, you wish that it hadn’t and that things were back to normal, back to the way they were before anything happened?
You can recall what your life was like before the incident which created a chaotic shambles of it. However the memory is infused with nostalgia for how things used to be, it seems rosier, brighter, because it is influenced by the pain you are feeling now, rather than the pain which you felt before now. Life always looks better in retrospect because we edit out the bits we don’t want to remember.
In real life there is no rewind, so we will never know how our life would have turned out if what has just happened never happened. Chances are if this ability was available we would get stuck on rewind, never being able to go forward because we’re too busy trying to fix the present by messing with the past. We are convinced life should be neat and tidy, painless, and happy. But life keeps thwarting our attempts to achieve that, and insists on being messy, chaotic, painful, and so emotional that we lose sight of whether happy is in the soup of emotions which we feel.
Yet life is actually not as disorderly as we think it is, and within the disorder there is a very structured order.
““If a fool persists in his folly”, says William Blake, “he will become wise.” This is a rule. We tend to think of our self-destructive folly as highly undesirable. We feel burdened, limited, even cursed by the irrational problems that place such restrictions on the way we’d like to live our lives. We spend much of our time feeling the effects of our folly, trying to ‘work out’ our problems, or figuring ways to be rid of the psychological demons that plague us. We rarely stop to think what the need for neurosis might be, or what purpose these quirks of the psyche might serve. As a result the resolution to our self-destructiveness would seem to be in head-on conflict. The smoker uses brute force to quit. The anorexic makes herself eat, or is made to. The depressive coerces himself out of bed. It fails to occur to us that the tenacity of our neuroses is for reasons far greater than their seeming need to create misery in our lives, that the symptoms of our dis-ease are precisely the statement of the soul’s discomfort which, because we will not heed its knocking at our door, must come in by the window.
The pain, the despair, the craziness of self-destructive behaviour is as loud a statement as it is possible to make that the soul is in exile and under attack. Very often our problem is not so much that we suffer from self-destructiveness, but that we hold it at arm’s length and in so doing deprive ourselves of its instruction. The source of our suffering is as much our ivory towered existence and antagonism to realities deeper than those of our narrow self-image, as it is the blows of fate from which we are so keen to defend ourselves. If we cannot or will not hear the soul’s rumblings, then it will find some artful way of rubbing our noses in that to which we needs must pay attention.” – Andy White, Going Mad to Stay Sane
I have recommended Andy White’s book, and I need to apologise for that, but I am not sorry. The apology is because it is hard to find and if you do find it, it is very expensive. I feel as though I have dangled something precious in front of you, but it is out of your reach unless you take a leap of faith in a stranger’s word… but what if that trust is misplaced and you end up worse off than before?
I’ve had the book for about ten years and I have to confess that at a point not so long ago in my life I considered selling it because I needed the money, but I couldn’t bring myself to part with it, just like when I found it in a secondhand bookshop, once I’d picked it up I couldn’t put it down again. It only cost £8 but to me that was pricey for a secondhand book and a lot of money to me. But throughout my life I have always chosen to buy books over food and other necessities, because knowledge to me is more important than anything else. Knowledge which leads to understanding. So I bought it. In truth I felt that I didn’t have the luxury of choice to buy or not to buy, it was more to buy or to steal it as it was stuck to my hand by invisible glue. I’m not prone to stealing because the ripples effects of such an action are not worth the momentary satisfaction of getting something for nothing. That particular type gift is a curse, and shows how there is a flip side to everything, thus if there is a gift in a curse, there is a curse in a gift (especially one which has been stolen).
This book changed my understanding of my life completely… all at once but also very gradually. Because things take time to sink in and become a part of you. Rewiring your system is an ongoing process, but the awareness of the need to do it can be sudden and sharp. I’ve reread it several times, and dip in and out of it regularly. So it is priceless to me. It explained my childhood, my parents, my pain, and my personal insanity, the inner conflicts which were tearing me apart and had been doing so all of my life. So, I am not sorry for recommending it, but this book is not necessarily going to impact your lives as it impacted mine, or be worth the price it costs to buy it. However if you like what I share with you on my blog, if my words speak to you and help you find your own answers within, then you’re getting the benefits of the book filtered through me.
How I found that book – I wasn’t looking for it, but it found me and it took me a while to realise what a fateful meeting that was – is a classic example of the order in the disorder of life.
You have had many similar fateful meetings, with books, with films, songs, with people, known and unknown, with incidents which seemed random and meaningless, interruptions of your day-to-day, accidents which turned out not to be accidents in retrospect. Life works in mysterious ways, but the ways are not as mysterious as they seem. We like mystery so sometimes it is better not to see that things are not mysterious, because it inspires us.
We are connected to everything and everyone, we just aren’t always aware of it, because part of living requires for us to remain separate from our interconnectedness.
Next time you watch some random film just because it’s on TV, or hear a song because it’s on the radio, or click a link on the internet, perhaps get distracted during a search, frustrated by the random results which are not what you are looking for, and decide to check something trivial out… maybe there is a message in it for you, relevant to your life right now.
Fateful meetings can be very short. Bumping into a stranger and exchanging a few words or a glance can be just as life changing, perhaps in a subtle way, as having a long relationship with someone. These meetings, short or long, can be good or bad, a bit of both, or indifferent and neutral. That moment may be chaotic and unexpected or tidy and expected. There’s a message, a piece of information, a part of the puzzle, in it for you, it is a movement in the music of your life, a sentence in your autobiography.
People do know what they are wishing for, what sometimes eludes us is how those wishes are granted.