Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lazy wind

Used with permission: CC msmyzr

Our memories come to us in present tense. When something triggers them, it's not an I was; it's a briefly disassociated I am. We are in that moment, that place again. The line between reality and imagination is blurred when memory reactivates and we travel, for a brief instant, into the past, viscerally. We taste, we sense, we smell, we feel again, rushing back, often unwittingly, an overwhelming reminder that we are not allowed to escape the consequences of what has already transpired. We are products of the sum of our decisions and all the things that happen to us. We are accidents of mathematics.

In this sense, we don't have formative years. We have formative moments, instants of deep transformation, often noticed, sometimes not until later. We experience many of these instants during adolescence, but they're by no means confined there. It is unbearable to imagine that they should be, that we should cease having chances to take a new direction. We are in constant flux, and we are ever subject to the reminder of these formative instants, powerful catharses, unimaginable terrors, silent and beautiful calms at the eyes of storms. We have one foot in the here and now, and one foot in the before, never quite completely at home in either one by itself. We are hybrids, circus freaks, and half-breeds, part unwitting journeymen with a longing to lay anchor, part prisoners of the now with a yearning for what was.

And so we are all time travelers. It's best of course to travel intentionally towards the present, that elusive moment that we always overconfidently think we have in our grasp just as it slips away again, into that fog of memory. It's best to be the Captain, to have a course laid out, to navigate ourselves safely around the rocks and shoals and sandbars, from port to port, gaining or leaving cargo here and there. It would be nice to always be one of those mythical people who have it all together.

But sometimes we can't be in the present. Sometimes the map has an error, or circumstance has another idea, or we take the wrong turn at Albuquerque. Sometimes we're yanked from our sure footing to another time, unavoidably, a reminder that we are not always the captains of our own collections of moments.

We are transported without being asked for permission.

I am in Aberdeen, on the beach. The wind is cold and brisk, unsympathetic, and I am full of dreams and hopes, thoughts and hormones, ideas and wishes and hopes, holy and unholy. The North Sea strikes against the shore with its relentless warning, Don't mess with me, sukka. Some have tried. You think you can do better? It's summer, but as an American who's not used to such things, who would know?

A local friend comes up next to me. He's wearing a light sweater--jumper, they would say. I'm wishing I brought a down parka with a fleece liner. Scotland in July can be like that. He tells me, "We call this a lazy wind."

Lazy? There doesn't seem to be anything lazy about this wind. This is a savage wind, heading west over Scotland to become a terrifying banshee on the Irish moors in a few hours. If it were anthropomorphized, it would be lifting me up and slamming my head repeatedly against the rocky and sandy dune, grabbing me by my unfortunately nonexistent down parka collar and shaking me until my brain was jellied, beating the living tar out of me, and then setting me back on my feet and dusting me off with an apology, because lazy Scottish winds are polite like that.

"Lazy?" I ask, fighting to be heard over the rush of salty air.

"Yeah. We call it a lazy wind because instead of taking the time to go around you [I hear "aroond yoo"], it goes right through you."

And so it does. The rest of my life is to be filled with an assorted collection of lazy winds, thoughts, ideas, unavoidable episodes, setbacks and opportunities, challenges and triumphs, deplorable decisions and unanticipated victories. Sometimes, the lazy wind blows everything away indiscriminately, not bothering to sift out the good from the bad, uprooting the wheat and the tares.

Sometimes it goes still and drops heaven at your feet.

I'm eating a baked potato while a diamond ring burns a hole in my pocket. I've accidentally put too much secret-recipe hot sauce on the potato, so I'm getting a matching hole in my stomach lining. I've flown 3,000 miles to propose to my girlfriend of two years that evening after she's done with work, but she invited me to have lunch with her near her workplace. It's an unusual treat.

Or a trick. My fork is midway between my potato and my mouth when she informs me that she would like to have nothing to do with me for an indefinite period of time.

A decade and a half later, that indefinite period is more or less still in effect (by her will or mine? it's irrelevant at this point). And the fork is still there, suspended. I can freeze that moment, but I cannot rewind it. I hate that instant--the lazy wind almost annihilates me and there's nothing the hot sauce can do to provide triage--but without it, I would not be here, now, writing this paragraph while a beloved wife-who-is-not-baked-potato-bar-girl sleeps nearby and two children rest peacefully in their upstairs bedrooms.

That instant will always be that instant. But I have more instants.

I'm having coffee with a man of the cloth, years later. In some ways, I'm still not quite healed from the baked potato. Any utensil--fork or spoon, or occasionally even a coffee cup--making its journey from the table to my lips elicits the automatic, primal notion that I should recoil for the announcement of something disastrous, although, mercifully, by this year I occasionally forget why.

There's something burning a hole in my pocket again. It's two sheets of paper, neatly folded, a list of issues I have with him and his associates, grievances perhaps, stumbling points, ideas that don't resonate well with the way I've understood the world up until this point.

He shares his story with me. Our stories have very similar beginnings, but his meandered somewhere along the way. I've been trying to tell myself for several years that his lazy wind blew him way off course, but he doesn't give a defense. He gives me his heart. Inside his heart is his story. It's not the story of a man who's been pushed somewhere he doesn't want to go. It's the story of a man who's been gratefully brought to something far more wonderful than he could ever possibly have imagined.

I want in that story. I want it to be my story. I want to forget about the baked potatoes and the lazy winds and the bad decisions.

The note stays in my pocket.

I take a sip of coffee, and the lazy wind stops blowing.

I drop anchor. I'm home.