Sunday, June 25, 2017

It All Depends

We all have them. We all have those infinitesimal moments when if the event had gone another way, everything in our life — and that means everything — would be different. In his poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” William Carlos Williams uses the phrase “so much depends.” Although as an English major I had undoubtedly studied the poem, it took on new meaning for me when a friend used the phrase “so much depends.” Her cancer was in remission at the time, or at least was manageable. I had asked her, “Are you in pain?” She answered, “No. So much depends…” and went on to recite the poem word for word. Her point was: whether I am in pain or not matters. So much depends on that. She added that one reading of the poem suggested that it refers to a child hovering between life and death. The poet was a doctor.

So much depends between this and that, between being here or somewhere else, between saying one thing or another, between seeing that oncoming truck before you turn or not.

The King James Version has it as “in the twinkling of an eye.”

So I never forgot my dear friend’s lesson, even though we went our separate ways.

I can readily draw up my own list of personal turning points balanced on the edge of a razor blade. I am told I started life that way, as a preemie. (Today, with advances in medicine and technology my entry into the world would be unremarkable.)

Family lore has me being nearly run over by my father in the backyard when I was five or six. Unbeknownst to my dad as he was backing up, I decided to bolt out of the car. Where did I go? Why? We will never know. My dad assumed the worst. My brother ran up the steps to tell Mom, “Dad ran over Paul!”

I was fine.


Whenever the story was retold at the dinner table, Dad would say, “Took ten years off my life.”

And who is to say otherwise?

Some moments get lost in the tides of time, as if they are less significant with the passage of days, months, and years.

The concussive wind of a Manhattan taxicab zooming by as I daydreamed and nearly drifted off the curb.  

Falling asleep at the wheel only to be awakened by the tires rumbling on a rough surface.

Decades ago, driving drunk and not remembering it.

Which illustrates the interactive nature of this utter powerlessness. In other words, others are inescapably involved in our seemingly random, remote choices.

Turning blue, choking on meat, only to find the Heimlich maneuver my wife of that time employed didn’t work — until she said “stop fighting me.”

In a blog post years ago, I coined an amusing term for this phenomenon:

or - chasm - n. The immeasurable distance between one choice and another.

I labeled it a noun, but these infinite moments fraught with fruition or finality have their own grammar. They are gerunds and participles and most of all infinitives.

They bear the indelible signature of choice and mystery.

These moments are the “Either/Or” of Soren Kierkegaard, "The Road Not Taken" of Robert Frost.

Name these nano-pinpricks as you see fit: choice, destiny, fate, will, coincidence, providence, or Providence.

You have yours; I have mine.

Attention must be paid.


mittens said...

It does seem that most if not all of our near brushes with death are in the presence of others (which makes sense, when you think about it)

--I recall one from my college freshman days; out on a double date, we had come to a particular paved road that was nearly a perfect large U, with a pond inside the U. We had stopped to cross the road to look at the pond more closely (this was late at night), and as we reached the center of the road a car came around the U at a phenomenal rate, maybe 80 or 90 MPH, possibly more. Everyone else took to the grass.
I was stunned by the sight, and the noise, and froze, halfway into the lane he was traveling. Only my date's much sharper thinking saved me, as he grabbed me and yanked me off the road just a second before the car roared by us.

I have no idea who the date was, I do know we never dated (think, blind date) again, but I can still see that car bearing down on me and him pulling me to the side of the road. It still gives me the 'what ifs".

I guess that's what I call all such near misses, 'what if" and try not to think it to the next messy step.

Pawlie Kokonuts said...

Thank you for your comment and telling story.

mittens said...

lol ty paul. I try not to have too many of that kind of 'what if' moments, sooner or later one does catch up with you, and while the God of Whatif turns to see what might be left in the candy box, the speeding train jumps the rail, the escalator step decides to eat my left foot, or that large boulder nails the car I'm riding in, and I'm suddenly a past tense.