I looked at my watch and saw that I was creeping past fashionably late to unreasonably late, but I had to finish. The little icon on the lower left hand side of the screen read 98%. I was so close to the end and really, I couldn’t stop if I tried. With my Kindle clutched in my hands and my knees drawn to my chest, I soaked up each page of this strange book to its completion.
Once done, I felt hollow, like all that was in me was carved out to leave behind this shell. What the hell did this story do to me? Why is it still bothering me all this time later? After taking a minute to absorb this odd sensation of being sucker-punched by an awesome novel, I picked myself up to get ready for a night out with my friends. Risking a glance at my wrist, I winced at the time. Hastily throwing together an outfit, I set out for dinner with a heavy mind.
What I’m feeling is dazed and confused. With a splash of melancholy. Might as well throw in frustrated and unsatisfied in there too for good measure. The past couple of weeks have been challenging for the obvious and not so obvious. A week off from your life with no power but surrounded by the strength of family and friends can do things to you; make you rethink where your priorities lie and where your happiness lives. It can also leave you feeling uneasy when life returns to normal. Hurricane Sandy blew into town and took something away from me. But what did it leave behind?
Once my friends and I made it to our destination and settled in for a great meal (and it was great, thank goodness for Mexican food), we got to talking about the storm and what we went through, or in some cases, what we’re still going through to try and get back on track with work and everything else. All of us are okay and all of us are lucky that nothing really terrible happened to us directly. But I think we each struggled with how to get back to normal. To me, it seems false to just paint on a face like nothing ever happened. I also can’t help but feel remorseful for all the time I’m spending feeling this way when by comparison to so many others out there, I’m alright. Stop being so melodramatic, I think. I go back and forth between these two extremes constantly, like a metronome ticking from side to side. I know that I have to reconcile these feelings because ultimately, what I need more than anything else is to move forward.
The book that nearly made me late for dinner is haunting me. I think about it during the day while running my errands and getting from place to place, and it permeates my dreams. It’s under my skin and in my heart and I’m not exactly sure why. I’ve actually written about the series on this blog and mentioned how excited I was for the sequel. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Justin Cronin’s The Twelve other than really great writing and the continuation of an already exceptional story. Maybe it was the timing of the storm and the conclusion of a “normal” week after the fact. Either way, its left an indelible mark.
It’s this notion that even in the most desperate of circumstances, the best of humanity has a way of climbing to the surface and overcoming the obstacles to win the day. That we have the power to shape our destinies no matter how big our past mistakes or what the stakes are because of faith in a greater good that’s bigger than ourselves. The Twelve tackles this head on in an epic story that hones in on a small cast of characters who all believe that very thing; that even the smallest act of selflessness has a purity to it with massive repercussions for the future.
The world in Justin Cronin’s story is utterly broken and destroyed with relics of our modern world scattered about as reminders of a past that saw a violent end. Despite the loss of what makes our life so comfortable now- cars, wifi, shopping centers, and mass produced food- people endure and retain a spirit that bands them together to stay alive. I think this is what sticks with me. We’ve built a world that is so focused on the accessories. Once we learned what we could do with technology we kept moving forward faster and faster, the growth exponential with each decade as we discovered how to make it smaller, faster, cheaper, and better. We’re moving so fast that we don’t stop to think, we just act. We just do. And somehow, along the way we’ve created this culture that embraces this numbness and satiates the self with things. We want more and more because our appetite is ravenous and we can never seem to have enough. But that’s because we’re not feeding the soul. We’re starving for emotional and physical connection, and in my case, for fulfillment with our choices in life.
What’s left me feeling like I’ve been walking through a cloud all week and unable to really articulate the thoughts buzzing through my head and heart, is this hunger. I began to feel like I was in control of my life. Then the hurricane happened and threw me a wicked curveball. I have my health, my family, food to eat, a roof over my head, and clothes on my back. And I was fine. All the rest were inconveniences but even that could be adjusted in place of an existence where things are simple. My mind was clear. My priorities shifted. Then the lights came back on and this switch inside me shut off. My ‘back to normal’ week seems unreal because it forced these false ideas of security down my throat. A paycheck, or a computer that turns on, or an ATM that works has no real meaning. I’m at work like nothing has happened surrounded by the same negative energy that was there before. What was I expecting? I guess some naive part of me thought that maybe this shift I felt, was shared by everyone and that together we’d all work to rebuild in a more positive direction. I should know better than to think it’s ever that easy.
The hollowness left behind by the story I read rattles me because I worry that I’ve lost some hope in a better world. A big part of me feels disillusioned with our need to cling to the material at the expense of what makes us beautifully human. The recent outpouring of volunteer efforts encourages me to believe otherwise, but nevertheless that sense of malaise sticks to me. How can I have faith in my choices when I’m part of a world that seemingly doesn’t appreciate the nuances of human emotion and importance of goodwill?
Then I remember the one part of my life that is unshakable and constantly restores my faith in people. My friendships. The people in my life who solidly stand by me through all of my highs and lows by guiding me with assurances and encouragement. The ones who I admire and inspire me with their bravery and spirit. I can approach them with a jumble of thoughts, much like this blog post, and they always manage to help me unravel them string by string because there is an understanding between us that goes beyond words. It’s these bonds that help keep my feet planted in the world that’s of my making, and that is what makes all the difference. I don’t have to accept the world with all of its cruelties and destructiveness as my reality. I can choose the uncharted path because its mine to do with it what I will.
A hurricane plus the timing of a book are really just a couple of unexpecteds that contributed to an already spinning mass of thoughts and emotions that I’m constantly working through each day. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even really know half of the questions. The plot isn’t resolved here. But for the first time in a while I’m beginning to see a break in the fog. The desire to make my life a happier one outweighs the expectations I have for others, because I’m beginning to understand that I can’t control the unexpecteds. People are going to do what they want to do no matter what I believe. The upside here is that I can too. And even better, I have a solid circle that helps carry me through it all.
My difficulties articulating all of the things that passed through my mind the last couple of weeks are pretty evident here. I still don’t think I’ve properly explained what I’m feeling. What I find to be so important about posting this as a Saturday Upside is that it compels me to take a minute and think about that elusive silver lining. I’m a thinker and I can easily get wrapped up in my mind if I don’t check myself now and then. I look forward to these posts on Saturday even though I resist it sometimes because it’s a much-needed release. Pouring your heart out on the page for everyone, including people I don’t know, to read is scary. But for me it’s becoming a vital part to what I’m trying to accomplish. The ability to express these ideas allows me to let go of fear and to be proactive, which are two extremely difficult things for me to do. So I need to say thank you if you’ve taken the time to read this. Even if I’ve never met you or you don’t comment, your eyes on this page means more to me than you’ll ever know.
Share your own Saturday Upsides each week on Recipes Happen. Happy Saturday everyone and keep paying it forward.