Vacation

I am trying to explain to myself why I am not in Maine today, because not being there is a physical pain. It’s my first day of vacation and all I can think of is sunfish.

A freshwater sunfish at the end of your hook—no matter how big a fish it is relative to other sunfish—is too small and bony for a fisherman, who must scorn it before throwing it back into the pond.

On the other hand, to a young swimmer, nervous about the Loch Ness monster, about octopuses, whirlpools, and mucky pond bottoms, to a swimmer who keeps an eye on her bare feet under the water until she can’t reach the bottom any longer and so has to float like a board on top of the water, keeping her feet as far as possible from the murky depths where a disembodied hand might rise from the mud to grab them, to this sort of swimmer the sunfish may be a gentle friend.

Not concerned with bones and eating or catching and releasing, the swimmer can delight in the flat fish that shimmers in the sunlight. The sunfish might nibble on a leg at rest in the water—tasting its surface as it might a sunken log—so lightly that the person might not notice it at all if in conversation, in thought, or otherwise distracted.

On the other hand, its nibble may startle and become a tickle and gasp affair that sends the sunfish darting to the safety of a shadow or into the plume rising up from the pond floor, stirred by feet dashing for shore, where they will be safe from piranhas pretending to be sunfish.

Once on shore, it’s difficult to ignore the instructions from a nervous grandmother, who can’t swim and lives in fear of drowning grandchildren, grandchildren who should not swim past the floating dock in front of the camp, but who do so while pretending to be deaf to her admonishments. The dock marks the spot where their grandfather can wade, hurling his mass through chest-deep water—because he can’t swim either—in less time than it takes to drown, a race that’s been tested just once, but he won it and we’re all still here as a result.

“Put that life jacket on right instead of standing there fussing with it,” one of several adults says as he pulls, tugs, clamps and clicks it into place.

 

“My god, I can’t breathe you’ve got it on so tight.”

 

“It’ll loosen up in the water, so forget your complaining, miss. You’ll be lucky if you can float with all the potato salad you ate. Without that lifejacket, you’d sink like a stone. Now go on with you.”

Bellies protruding, we grandchildren hop across hot stones, throwing ourselves into the pond, kicking up walls of water in our wake to discourage any would-be pursuers from following too close behind. They can’t follow us into the pond or they would ruin their freshly curled permanents, their new sundresses, and their hearing aids. They would lose their new contact lenses that would float away from their wide-open eyes to be nibbled by curious sunfish under the dock.

Contact Lenses and PTSD: Surprising Connections

As part of my on-going Middle Age Immersion, I have been experimenting with bifocal contact lenses. I had little hope of them actually working and had preemptively begun the worrying-process about what I’d do when they failed me. There is no way these things should work for anyone, in my humble opinion.

I’ve had corrective lenses since I was in the fourth grade and have always gotten new lenses from the eye doctor when my eyes are not functioning as I expect. Despite this focus, ehem, on eyes, so much of how the body works comes back to the brain and so too with the eyes. Consider how a bifocal contact lens works: the near-focus and the and far-focus portions of the lens are in front of the pupil at the same time, meaning the brain has to determine which parts of the lens to use to get the best image resolution.

I was marveling at my brain and its tricky ways, enjoying the morning sunlight, as I headed to work on Monday. I maneuvered onto 880 during the morning rush (short-merge, road construction, freight-truck-wheels-at-eye-level to the left and a cement wall to the right, white knuckle-anxiety chaser to my morning cuppa joe), just as the California Report on KQED aired a story on the use of meditation with combat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The part of the story that really captivated me was when the therapist leading the vets through a guided meditation kept repeating the phrase “…and they’re just like me…” So for example, “I’m walking out of a grocery store and the person behind me drops a jar of pickles that sounds like a bomb. He’s a guy getting his groceries and he’s just like me.”

The idea, if I understood it correctly, is that PTSD impacts the way the brain works, making the part that helps us experience compassion for others take a backseat to the fight/flight part of the brain. By gently leading the veterans through everyday challenging situations and providing them a different way of processing that information, guided meditation helps them re-build or restore the use of their brains’ compassion centers.

Although I am not a combat vet and do not, so far as I know, have PTSD, I have diagnosed myself with a condition I call Patience Deficit Disorder. I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one who has it. I think many people suffering this affliction are my blood relatives, but my research methods are not scientific. The condition, as manifested by me, is most pronounced when I am behind the wheel.

While listening to the PTSD meditation story, I realized that using the same mantra could be the antidote for my PDD. As I was already feeling tense from my perilous morning commute, I started using the mantra right away and it seems to have been very helpful this week. For example, when I’m merging onto an insane freeway during rush hour, I tell myself that the people in those cars are just like me. When someone changes lanes in front of me and stops quickly, “the person in that car is just like me.” When some lost driver sits through a green light, makes their turn at the end of the yellow, and leaves me at the red, I know the person in that car is just like me. When I am late, in the wrong lane, or lost, I appreciate a little compassion from my fellow drivers on the road we share.

Perhaps compassion is the antidote for many of the challenges that tax our minds and souls?

What makes a hero?

Since I started blogging, I’ve noticed that there are times when “themes” emerge in the public discourse or in the small circles through which I move. Themes are great for blogs, so my antennae are on alert for these gold nuggets. I’ve recently had cause to think about people acting heroically, in part because of this man:

Last week Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker ran into a burning building to save a woman who lives in his neighborhood, which I think is amazing. I mean, who (besides our everyday hero, the Firefighter) has the fortitude to run into a burning building? Talk about serving the public…

In thinking about heroism, I recalled a moment of personal cowardice to put things into perspective. Although, there are times in my life when I have done The Right Thing, I haven’t always played my A game… When I first left Maine at the tender age of 23, I lived in Santa Cruz for a couple of years. My grandmother June came to visit me and we went out on the Wharf, where we were amazed to see a pelican perched.

As we stood a few yards from it, snapping pictures and marveling, it took flight, straight at us! I shrieked and hid behind my grandmother, who was in her 70s at the time. We had a good laugh about it all, but it was a moment for me. I had a little chat with myself:  You don’t jump behind Gram, you jump in front of her. Got it? Good.

My March 6 post was about seeing a young man in a restaurant perform the Heimlich Maneuver on one of his dining companions. When I first realized what was happening, he was doing it without success and he began to panic. He stopped and asked the people in the room for help. My husband stood beside him and calmly told him he was doing the right thing and to keep doing it. He resumed his efforts and a moment later his friend was gasping for air.

Sometimes being heroic takes a team. In the above case, being heroic meant doing what is needed–an active role for some, a supporting role for others. And just because you are the right person at the right time doesn’t mean you know how: you may be the one who figures it out.

Can you think of some everyday or extraordinary heroism that you’ve seen recently? What does heroism look like to you?