Monday, March 12, 2012

Threads and Salt-Shakers

I spent the week visiting my best friend and her family, which is why I haven't blogged in a while. In case you missed me.

The visit is always book-ended by a 10 hr. drive each way, and almost every time I make it, I come upon an accident. Sometimes, it's an accident that has just occurred.

Luckily, none of them has been as bad as the accident I once drove by on my way back to NJ from RI. As I wondered what on earth was hanging off of the side mirror on the driver's side, I realized that it was the driver.

I drove about 30 mph for the rest of that trip.

It's a strange feeling when you come upon an accident after spending hours on the highway, because in a couple of cases, I recognize the car, and it's usually someone who passed me not too long before.

Yesterday, it was the same thing. This time, the front of the car and the ground around it was on fire. Luckily, no one seemed to be seriously hurt.

I always think about how it all hangs by a thread. Literally. We're connected to each other by strange threads that we sometimes can't even see. There's no reason why that particular car got into a fender bender--or a serious accident--with someone. It could easily have been me.

As I've said before, if there's any advantage to the rather difficult life experiences I've had over the past few years, it's the fact that it's made me more aware of such threads.

I'm aware of the randomness of "fate" (for lack of a better word). We choose, sometimes, and sometimes we're apparently chosen at random.

While a lot of people might think this makes it all quite meaningless, for me, it makes it all that much more meaningful. If so much is out of my control, then that makes the things that are in my control--the choices I make about who I want to be, how I want to act, what I want to contribute--that much more important.

It takes blame entirely out of the picture. I think that's one of my personality pet-peeves, actually: people who always look to blame someone else for something.

Worry about yourself. Shine that light inward, and what do you see? If you reserve the right to take everyone else's inventory, make sure you're prepared to allow others to do the same.

Not all threads are so serious, of course, and my drives up and down the East Coast aren't entirely philosophical (or morbid).

For instance, there's always that 15-minute span of time when they play "American Pie" on the radio and the mandatory "Bye, bye, Miss American Pie" sing-along begins.

It's a theory of mine that all Americans of a certain age probably know the lyrics to that song. Whether they also know what they mean is another story, of course. I confess, I've been baffled for over four decades now.

So a portion of my trip is spent wondering why Don McLean did it. It is also spent wondering whether, when Jimmy Buffett describes searching for his "lost shaker of salt," he's referring to something more than a literal salt shaker.

What is life's existential salt-shaker? And if one loses it, can it be rediscovered? In fact, "Margaritaville" is all about taking responsibility for one's life: starting from a position of blame and ultimately realizing, "it's my own damn fault."

Mostly, though, I spend the ride in awe of my best friend and my great good fortune in having the threads that have connected me to her for over 25 years now. She's doing the Ultimate Hike for CureSearch: it's a one-day, 28.6 mile hike through the foothills of North Carolina to raise money (and awareness) about pediatric cancer.

In hopes that there will someday be a cure. That's what Ezra would have wanted: an end to the stupid cancer that took his childhood and that took him from us.

This Saturday was also the 2-year anniversary of my mom's death. She died of long-term complications from the cobalt radiation administered to fight her case of breast cancer in 1973: at the time, that was the standard follow-up treatment to a radical mastectomy. 

In 1973, the 5-year survival rate for Stage 3 pre-menopausal breast cancer was approximately 25%.  Today, the survival rate is between 40-67%.

So much has changed in such a short time. I know we can do it, little by little. I can hope for a cure, but I can know in my heart that things will get better and treatments will improve: people will suffer less and the threads that tie us to one another won't strain and break so painfully.

And that's a good thing.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."