After my last post, all cheery and grateful, I’m ahead far enough on happy credits to grow all sombre and introspective again. Today I took delivery of a lonely, stormy Sunday. Last night I attended the annual Country Women’s Association Quiz night, a sort of mega-Trivial Pursuit distraction which provides the folk of Madang with an evening of aimless and good natured competition.
Since this is going to be yet another soul-searching ramble through the back alleys of my cranium, let me first demonstrate that I am not in a bad mood at all. These are among the finest bananas I have ever had the pleasure of smushing up in my still toothy gob. Somebody brought them up to the beach at Blueblood a couple of weeks ago. I must have eaten about six of them. As you can see they are rather small. They are incredibly sweet and the flavour is slightly reminiscent of green apples:
See, that’s a happy thing. You may find little flakes of freeze-dried happiness elsewhere on this page. Let’s see what happens. I’m winging it.
As I plan to intersperse scenes from last night’s frivolities here and there as I plod along, I may as well get started. This is our intrepid QuizMaster, Shane McCarthy overseeing the presentation of the craft projects. Each table of six participants was required, on pain of merciless ridicule, to create an object d’art from the miscellaneous contents of a cardboard box. Imaginations ran rampant on the theme of “Christmas Carol”:
Once again I found myself facing a dilemma, the magnitude of which might seem trivial when seen from some remote location outside my skull. Over and over again, because of my life situation, smack dab in the middle of everything which meant anything to us, I have to decide if I’m going to do this or that and wonder what my reaction is going to be. The problem is that there is no more us. There is just me. The range of effects which I have experienced has fallen between the extremes of euphoria and despair. I honestly don’t know beforehand what is going to happen. I’m just along for the ride.
This is a tender minefield. While that expression may seem oxymoronic, it is not. All that is happening here is that my community is allowing me the freedom to find a new normality. People are treating me as if everything is business as usual. This is exactly what they ought to do. From their perspective everything is business as usual. The minefield is of my own device.
I had waited for an invitation to a table at Quiz Night until I felt that I had to take some active part in my life once more. Two days before the event I called two friends asking, in a not-so-transparent manner, if they had a table and if it was filled. Later that day, I did receive an invitation, after I mentioned it, from another friend. So, committed as I am to allowing life to carry me where it will with as little interference from me as is prudent, I accepted with a mixture of gratitude and foreboding. I’m such a drama queen. Everything has to be a big production. Nothing is easy. Truthfully, I blame my mother, but don’t tell her.
It is a minefield, but it bears me no malice. It is simply there, inert until provoked. If I stay in place, I won’t get anywhere. I’ll stand and take root in this miserable existence. I can walk gingerly, experimentally, but I know that the odds are against me. I’ve already stepped on a few and I have big chunks missing here and there. The wounds are painful, but they heal rapidly, some more rapidly than others.
Following the analogy of the minefield, I’ll tell you a true story (really) about a related metaphor, The Point of No Return.
When you note that you have reached the geometrical centre of the minefield and you count your injuries, it dawns on you that you are only half-way home. Injury-wise it might make more sense to retrace your steps and return to GO, not collecting $200. Yet that way lies the madness of arriving back at the beginning and realising that the only reasonably safe option is to once again retrace your footsteps back to the point at which you turned around and proceed from there. You needn’t have wasted the energy. Rational decisions at this point are extremely difficult to reach.
Late one Sunday afternoon in the early ’70s, I roared away from Chicago Midway Airport in a US Army UH-1 “Huey” helicopter with my crew of four en-route to Decatur Illinois, our home airfield. It was a late departure and each of us had a severe case of “get-home-itis”; families and jobs awaited us. I was Pilot in Command, as sorry a situation as you could want. I was neither much of a pilot nor much of a commander. Deeming that we had sufficient fuel, we lifted off post-haste.
Shortly after passing Kankakee, we could see a massive line of thunderstorms ahead of us. This is my no means unusual for a summer evening in Illinois and it seemed that there were plenty of non-flashing holes through which we could safely pass. We fluttered on, listening to AM radio rock-n-roll through our helmet speakers. After a while it was becoming more and more obvious that we were going to be doing some ducking and weaving. I tapped my finger on the fuel gauge. My co-pilot nodded and frowned. I considered a hop back to Kankakee and a miserable night with a grumbling crew in a motel and rejected it.
We dodged thunderheads visible only by their fireworks and suffered some moderate turbulence which reminded us how long it had been since lunch – just long enough. Nobody wants to barf into his helmet bag. With all of that dodging and searching for holes, I could see that fuel was going to be a teensy-weensy problem. The chatter on the intercom went significantly silent. Everybody knew that we had just passed the Point of No Return. I was wondering precisely how many Army Regs and Flight Rules I had already busted. I was about to bust a few more.
Well, I see that it’s time to shorten this long story. We passed safely, if unsteadily through the flashy Texas Line Dance of cumulonimbus incus aircraft washers and into the still, star-studded air of central Illinois. We were about twenty-five minutes from Decatur when the Twenty Minute Fuel Warning light began excitedly to advertise its presence. Uh-oh. As pilots are wont to put it rather indelicately, the pucker factor increased by an order of magnitude.
Let me take a break from that breathless and somewhat pointless reminiscence to show you our creation: (and then I’ll try to explain the inexplicable)
I sincerely hope that you can see that it is a manger scene, complete with a tiny, fuzzy Baby Jesus. I contributed, somewhat distractedly, the snowflake and the exclamatory Moo from the spotted cow.
So, was there any point at all to the helicopter story? Probably not. But, if I had to guess, I guess it would be that we are sometimes so distracted by what we so desperately want that we are unable to recognise what we so desperately need. Now, connecting this somewhat tenuously back to the minefield thing, a few of those mines might capriciously explode into bouquets of roses, unlikely as that might seem. Others will blow a leg off. Some might be duds. The problem is that I must keep moving and the only way I know the intent of a mine is to step on it. You know, my situation is not a bit different from yours, now that I think of it. Humpf! And I thought I was special.
Some things which I fervently desire now are not yet available to me. Someday some of them might be. Time will tell. Time will also tell whether they were things which I actually needed. Other things, things which I do not currently yearn for, may turn out to be the things which I need. It would have been such a senseless tragedy if I had killed my crew and myself in a flame-out crash because I did not want to spend a night in a motel in Kankakee. That is what I needed. I realised that most certainly when that warning light came on.
I’m striving quite earnestly to keep my eyes peeled for the warning lights. Right now, I know that I can’t trust my desires to be in my best interest. Though some, with that fearful symmetry, burn as bright as William Blake’s tiger in the forest, I can never forget the minefield. It is not just a figure of speech. I must move forward. Carefully.
So, with that hopeful thought, I will give you a happy, pretty face. No, not mine. Though I have now made myself happier than I was a couple of hours ago I am still no prettier. Writing does that for me.
This is the lovely smiling face of Michaela of Vienna, who rescued me from an evening of solitary regret:
Saved again by a sensible and loving friend.