Can I Ask You a Few Questions?

 

What do your past experiences tell you about your life today?

I received a mysterious call the other day. People that know me would be baffled that I even answered it. I probably talk on the phone less than two times a week. I don’t know what possessed me to say hello. This was a survey measuring the health of Texas citizens. Well, a sociologist can’t hardly say no to a survey. It was about health, so of course that was a hot topic right now. She didn’t tell me how long it would take, but it was an extensive experience.

I answered the usual demographic questions to determine which categories I fit into – age, sex, income, and family composition. Whoever put this together (those paying for it) seemed to have been a wide range of groups. There were questions about:

  • prostate health
  • childhood corporal punishment
  • alcohol consumption
  • hours of sleep
  • doctor visits
  • relations with neighbors
  • trips to the grocery story
  • anxiety and depression

The questions took me back over my adult life thus far. Afterwards I thought about chapters that had been brought up in my mind during the interview. There’s just not much else on Netflix anymore is there?

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”― Søren Kierkegaard

 

I had my carpet and floor cleaned the other day. The young guy doing the work was asking me what I did, professor is a good answer. If I say “sociologist” I typically get a smile and a nod, but know that there’s confusion. I explained to him that what interested me was the context that helped explain why people do what they do. I told him at a party I’d probably ask him questions about his family, neighborhood, school to try and figure him out a little better. I could tell by his follow up questions that I didn’t do a good sales job. He was still thoroughly encumbered with the psychological mindset, as most Americans are.

“Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.” ― Robert Penn Warren

That health survey reminded me of so many life experiences; where was I living when I was in the hospital for that surgery, childhood misbehavior, becoming a parent, taking care of each other once we got married. The experience with that lady over the phone got me thinking while I was talking and for days after.

There are friends of mine right now who are in the middle of terrible health crises. I can only imagine how they are getting through each day. I think about how they will live their lives in the coming years, never the same, always shaped by this terrible turn. What will they remember about these days and how will matter to them?

What do you think has shaped your life the most, so far? Can you find a theme, a theme song? I got desperate the other day and watched that Judy Garland movie. Did you ever see the film Cold Mountain? That Renee Zellweger is an incredible actress. Anyway, to get back to poor Judy Garland. What a mess! I hope your life has better chapters and a better song.

As I thought about my own chapters I realized again some important truths:

  • Stop letting the “Ghosts of Christmas Past” haunt the life you’re building today – it’s over with, there’s nothing you can do about it, laugh off that tragedy and move on! Leave these behind you and keep your eyes on the road ahead.

“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

  • Remember all those essential memories – the ones that really helped make a difference in your life (the people too) and find ways to pass them on to someone else in your life. Tell the next generation some of the important stories before it’s too late.
  • Talk to people from your past, catch up, do some hunting. Renew those connections in your life and tell people why they mattered – having friends is nothing to take for granted – have you been out there lately?

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Maybe the health of Texas (or wherever you are) depends on your reflection?

 

There’s Always Two Sides

I was listening to a video of Judy Collins singing the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now” – got me into a very reflective mood. Again.

Surely this great quarantine has also provided you with some reflective moods now and then. What has this incredible shut down forced you to think about while sitting outside under the trees? What fears are lurking around the next corner? What new goals have you decided to set for yourself?  Deciding to be a better person in your relationships (someone else making this decision for you)?

“…how sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet” ― Robert Browning

For a long while now I’ve been putting down poems on my phone. Don’t tell anyone. First of all, I still can’t believe I’m the owner of a cell phone. Secondly, I actually know poets. They would be horrified that I was sitting in parking lots letting words, ideas and feeling spill onto my iPhone.

I’m in my first year as a widower. One of the recent stream of consciousness poems I jotted down was the reflection that “everyday there’s a hard part” – doesn’t usually last long, but it’s consistent.

Joni Mitchell’s song makes me think about the two divisions of life that I’ve lived (am now living). You should go read the lyrics with the song playing. Here’s a portion:

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know love
Really don’t know love at all

Maybe this terrible time of isolation has shown you another side of life. Another side of your own life? What if one of the hidden blessings of this tragedy is that you’ve gotten a brief glimpse of what’s over the wall?

In my life, this other side of the wall without my wife isn’t going to go away.  Everyday, there’s a reminder out of the blue – the hard part. As far as this “shut down” goes, it will end. We will probably have a new normal – I’m working on planning a different way to do college classes this fall. But, we are all going to come back home to a version of where we left.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

“Both Sides Now” reminds me that there’s always a danger that when I go back to the new normal I could slip back into that automatic living I was doing before.

Shakespeare wrote, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I listen to Judy Collins sing that song (1976!) and for me, it’s true, I didn’t know how to really love. I see that now from this side.

But when this quarantine ends, I’m going to live with as few regrets as I can, because I’ve seen a little bit of both sides of me.

What about you?

 

“Now the wren has gone to roost and the sky is turnin’ gold
And like the sky my soul is also turnin’
Turnin’ from the past, at last and all I’ve left behind”
― Ray Lamontagne