Saturday, August 7, 2010


Savoring everyday moments is a practice towards happiness, but my proclivity towards over-sensitivity occasionally takes it in the wrong direction. Embracing the reality of the present involves an "attitude of gratitude" (gah- when did New Glitterati become so....New Age-y? She should buy herself some healing crystals and call it a day. And by "buy herself some healing crystals" I mean, of course, that she should place them in the freezer for an hour and then pour vodka over them and let them do their magic. This is the only purpose I can think of for healing crystals- straight-up vodka on actual cold rocks.) But it can also involve this: the understanding that there are bad things that happen in the world, that often there's nothing you can do to prevent them, and that catastrophes unfold around us on a daily basis.

The cab driver probably wasn't looking when he gunned through the intersection, T-boning the SUV turning right from the other direction. The impact was so loud that everyone in the vicinity came outside to see the cars, crumpled up on one another and occupying a curious space in the no-man's land that is the middle of an intersection.

I watched as the drivers got cautiously out of their vehicles, watched as passengers came crawling out and it was ascertained if injuries had been inflicted. The passenger in the cab was claiming some sort of bruising but, for the most part, everyone was OK.

But I looked at the cab driver. His shoulders were tired and hunched as he began removing his personal items- a cell phone, a water bottle, and a leather briefcase- from the wrecked cab. He was shaking his head. The police were questioning him, the passenger irate and talking loudly to the EMTs that had arrived. Someone from the cab company showed up to inspect the damage. I just kept watching that driver and thinking that there are moments when you realize you are witnessing what could be the worst day of someone's life.

Most likely there will be an investigation, a ticket will be written, and the passenger could sue. It is probable, although I don't know how likely, that the cab driver will lose his license, his job, or both. What, then, is a foreign-born middle-aged man to do to feed his family? I'm speculating here--I know nothing of this cab driver or his situation. But I watched the events unfold, I watched the crowd gather and I couldn't help but wonder what it is that draws us to drama. How the execution of everything else- the pressing errand, the phone call, the lunch date- is paused to allow for rubber necking of something ugly, scary, or otherwise a rude interruption from the ordinary.

My inclination towards over-sensitivity can be hard to deal with sometimes. I become so emotionally attached to situations that I have trouble disassociating and find myself turning it over and over in my mind. In the months after 9-11, I had to seek counseling for PTSD because I couldn't stop having nightmares about being inside a building on fire with nowhere to go. And when I see bad things happen; a fight, an accident, an injury; I cannot help but become somehow emotionally invested. I start thinking of all of the possible story lines for that moment, and how that could ultimately pan out for each individual. I see a car accident and I see months of injuries, expensive repairs, depression, possibly the loss of a job.

Being in the moment can sometimes trap you. You forget to step back and away, you forget to gain a broader perspective.

Happiness, as I said, is a choice. It is not a random circumstance. It does not just "happen," but rather is the result of how you choose to deal with the world and the world, undoubtedly, is going to throw some pretty heavy things at you sometimes.

To be happy all of the time is impossible, and not desirable in any way. It negates the idea that happiness is its own separate entity, and delineates pain. If you do not, from time to time, allow yourself to slip into moments of fury and upset and hurt feelings and insecurity, then how can you ever choose happiness? How can you work your way out of it again?

I watched the car crash unfold and I felt myself getting sucked in and wanting to do something to help. (This tendency of mine is as golden as it is bitter. It has led to my career choice, but it also gets me ensnared in places and situations I have no business being in. I am learning to choose more carefully when to let this character trait loose and when to reel it back in.) I started thinking about how everyone involved now had a ruined day, a ruined car, possibly ruined health if injuries showed themselves. Possibly a ruined career.

But then I also saw that no one had been standing close enough to be hit or seriously injured. I saw how the cab had hit hard on the passenger's side where no one was sitting. I saw how the police and ambulance showed up within a few minutes and had everything cleared shortly after. I saw the hundred things that could have been so much worse and realized that while you can spend a lot of time bemoaning the fact that the car crash happened in the first place, you could transfer that energy into gratitude that a, b, or c HADN'T happened.

Maybe this is a little Pollyanna.

Maybe Pollyanna just needed a good dose of vodka and Dorothy Parker.

The point is- if you're in the moment, that moment may not necessarily be a good one. But allowing yourself to see it through to the end and feel everything that needs to be felt is just as important as remembering that it's just that- a moment. One that will pass. And on the other side of it might be something amazing, or funny, or just average but still different in some fashion. It's like embracing hunger with the knowledge that it will make everything so much more appetizing.

We bear witness to so many things everyday that happen outside of us, but we only really pay attention when it's a spectacle of some kind. It brings the focus out of ourselves and into the reality of the moment, and this is not something to write off.

No one was critically hurt. That's the most important thing. "Thank God no one was hurt," the onlookers kept saying. Not "Why did this happen in the first place?" But an acknowledgment that damage, overall, will eventually be minimal. Because sometimes it isn't.

No comments: