The silver birches, white trunks gleaming against the blue grey sky, stand in a sea of daffodils. They are early this year, the daffodils. But everything is. Our winter has been unseasonably warm. The magnolias have bloomed. The irises are unfolding. We are barely in August and already it feels like Spring. I noticed them today because I was out walking. I was out walking because an earlier accident had rendered my car undriveable.
I’d been leaving to meet a friend for coffee when perfect alignment occurred. Somehow, while reversing down the driveway, a garden light became lodged between my front wheel and the bumper. I did not realise this at first, subsequently dismantling the front bumper, the fog light, parking sensor and associated electricals. But the incident did not negate my requirement for coffee, only increased it, so after making the necessary arrangements for repair, I set out on foot.
Our acreage is several kilometers out of town and in order to shorten the journey, I took a path through the park. A shirtless, tattooed man was playing a didgeridoo. Two teens were skateboarding in the amphitheater. Four youths were swaggering towards me, scowling. I could have created narratives about all these people. Imagined who they might be, how they might hurt me. It would have been easy, particularly considering I had already had “something go wrong”. A self-destructive, anxiety-inducing spiral could have eventuated. And in the past, would have.
Instead, I noticed that the sky above the bare trees was a thick blanket of grey. But parts of it were glowing, lit from behind, where the cloud cover was thinner. The air was cool and still, a perfect walking temperature. The water in the creek was flowing gently, rippling as leaves fell to become little boats, floating to a new port of call.
I arrived for coffee with Crystal. We ate, drank. Wandered around. I bought some tops I had spotted earlier in the week, and vowed not to purchase until I finished the book. We parted, heading for home in opposite directions. At the corner of the highway, a woman wheeling a walking frame stopped me.
“Excuse me,” she said, “do you know where Pat’s Sewing and Alterations is? I’m sure it used to be around here somewhere.”
“Oh, um. I’m not sure, do they sell sewing machines as well? I think there is a sewing store on the next block over.”
“Yes,” she said, “they do.”
“Ah, ok. I think it’s on Post Office Place around the corner.”
“Thank you,” she said and went to walk away. She turned back towards me and said “you know, I was out walking the other day and a lady approached me. She pointed at my walking frame and said ‘I’m supposed to use one of those. But I don’t, I don’t like the look of them, even though when I was walking a while ago, I rolled my ankle and broke it.'”
She paused for a moment, leaned closer, then said “She wanted sympathy from me. But I said ‘Oh, well. That’s your problem.'” She laughed. “It’s not my problem. And I didn’t need to make it my problem.”
“It sure isn’t your problem!” I chuckled as she shifted her walking frame forward and went back to her day. Here was a woman who was not creating narratives around other people or their problems. In all likelihood, she wasn’t creating them around herself, either. It was a much-needed reminder that other people’s problems are not mine and I do not need to make them mine. I don’t even need to make my problems “problems.”
A long-time favourite web comic Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand recently posted this:
A debunked urban legend does the rounds occasionally, billed as an ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995.
Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”
Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”
Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”
Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”
Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”
Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”
The thing is, lighthouses can only shine the way, they cannot make you follow the course.
He’ll light your way but that is all
Steer your own ship back to shore
Humans love to create stories. We are masters of narrative. But who would we be without our stories?
Byron Katie has a process called The Work which teaches us how to question the stressful thoughts that cause suffering. I won’t pretend it’s easy. We are often far too into our own stories to want to give them up. But it is simple, and anyone with an open mind can do it.
It consists of four questions and what she calls a turnaround which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. You put these questions up against a stressful thought, such as “I’m too fat” or “My husband should listen to me” or “Life is unfair.” The questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
I could have created a story about my accident. About the money it will cost me for the repair. About the inconvenience it will be to have my car off the road. About how I’m going to get to work for the next few weeks. But would those thoughts be true? How would I react if I believed them? And who am I, without those thoughts?
An invented narrative is not worth my energy or my sanity.
Because without the accident today, I’d not have met my lighthouse. And without my story, I am perfectly fine.