I sat distracted. I was listening to a performer alternately speak and then play a piece on the piano. It was a good talk. I was just buried in my own worries and fears. It was the last week before I started college.
I remember him playing a song I knew was about 2000 warriors and their strength. The song inserted into my mind the thought that I was protected by warriors. Invisible, angelic warriors. My fears dissolved instantly. I was excited and looked forward to the new experiences of college.
A month or so later, I found myself overwhelmed and walking aimlessly. I wandered over to a low cement wall and just as I sat down, a leaf fell and landed on the thin wall right beside me. The leaf's message was both simple and completely changed my life. It was simply "All your choices have led you here. The entire universe spun and twisted and conspired to set this leaf here at the exact time you sat here by it. It is always so. You can never be in the wrong place." I know now it was the moment I realized I was one with the universe. I again lost my worries and fears for a time, and carried on plugging away at life.
And oh! the life! I had wanted to be a scientist as a kid. Then computers captured my imagination and I thought that would be the way to go. I paused all that to share my views on religion with others for a time, and while doing that, I discovered I really enjoyed getting to know people and talk about their dreams. I came back to college life determined to be an occupational therapist, helping others live with and adapt to disability. Volunteering helped me realize I couldn't perform physically in that field like I had hoped. In college, I began to fall in love with psychology, anthropology, and sociology.
I plugged away at a college degree. I had moved on from the original college to another much smaller one. I worked part time, and saved up tuition for a class or two at a time. Progress was slow. I began to doubt myself. I couldn't stay patient and keep seeing only small steps.
In my journal during that time, I wrote of feeling like a boy lost in a destroyed city. There were so many pieces to a functioning city, and the boy felt responsible for putting it all back together. The storms from the destruction were still raging, however, and the boy had no clue how to put things in order. Just when one piece fell into place, the storm would gather itself up and pull the pieces back up into its whirling wind. There was darkness everywhere and hopelessness and despair.
The pieces were the combined experiences of my life so far. Computers, people, psychology, my job in customer service. I was lost. I couldn't fit it all together. My brothers and sisters were all getting married and starting families. I had this mixed up jumble of experiences that wouldn't fit into a single cohesive life I could carry on with. Finally, I came across a government agency that could help me finish my bachelor's degree. I had a plan and I focused on social sciences. I would also be moving along to a third college.
There, with the pressure off, I continued learning about human thinking and feeling and being. The work I found, however, was at the college library. I felt another wind starting to blow. I graduated from college, met my wife, and got a job as a substitute reference librarian. Again I had "found my calling" and went screaming down the path to becoming a librarian. The image of the boy with now even more pieces to fit together was always with me. The substitute hours weren't enough, however, so I started hitting up the temp agencies. I eventually found a small state agency and did some proofreading work for them. Towards the end of the temp project, a permanent position opened up and I started down yet another path.
I wasn't afraid of computers and found myself playing around with the agency databases and making them find all kinds of useful answers to questions people asked me. Eventually the IT Manager asked that I be put under him and then immediately pulled the plug on my experimenting. I learned enough under him, though, that when he quit a while later, the agency felt I was qualified to be their IT Manager. This was the career path.
In the off hours, I had discovered storytelling from working at the library. I was also heavily involved supporting my nieces and nephews as they grew up. We never had kids of our own, but that left plenty of free time to help family around us. Then we took on a kid who defied all expectations. The differences between our parenting styles and the energy I had to put into keeping him on track took a toll on both my marriage and career. I kept trying to juggle nephew, wife and boss for some time, but just couldn't keep everyone happy. I focused on the nephew, thinking he didn't need yet another person to fail him. My wife made her own choices to start looking for alternative relationships. At work, it became difficult to concentrate and I found myself making mistakes, some of them costly to the agency.
So I separated from my wife, moved the nephew and myself to another apartment and the storm from college days seemed like a rain shower in comparison to the hurricane I was in. I finally broke. I quit my job. The nephew felt he was the trouble and moved on without me. For a couple years, I struggled thinking I could repair the relationship with my wife. Eventually, she filed for divorce. My life there was done. Shattered. I clung on to the group of storytellers I had been getting to know for ten of those years.
I signed the divorce papers and realized I was free from that place. I had a friend offer a room in her house several states away and I decided to go for it. I couldn't afford a regular apartment anyway, and her family and friends were extremely welcoming. After just a month there, it was time to go back up to finalize the divorce before a judge. My wife declared under oath that our relationship was irreconcilable. She had to say it first, because I didn't think it was until she said it. So that closed that chapter.
I was despondent and really just numb. I found myself driving aimlessly until I ended up at a lake I loved to swim in. It was rainy and cold, but I recalled the lake somehow was always warm. I walked to the dock and dropped off heavily. The water was warm enough and swam and floated lazily. Rain came and went several times. Eventually, it rained hard enough that the drops or splashes seemed to float just on the surface before the lake accepted them in. I was surrounded by little clicking balls of water that caught the light from the cloudy sky and lit up the lake for just the briefest moment then disappeared. Other times, the rain just fell silently, like a mist into the lake. I just floated and swam slowly and thought and thought and thought.
The thoughts weren't a screaming train of thought. That had been silenced by the numbness I felt. Then I saw a light floating on the water. Not the fleeting drops I just described. Bigger, and solid. I started over that way until I realized it was a giant drop of water. How? I got closer and closer until I realized a leaf had fallen on the lake with a curve in it like a tiny boat. The rain had filled the boat and the wax on the leaf had kept the water in a perfect sphere. It was beautiful. The perfect balance of timing, weight, surface tension all rolled into the most amazing sight I could ever remember. I gently floated around and around it. I waited for the rain to fill the leaf to overflowing when I expected the drop to join the surface of the lake and end the moment. It didn't happen. I finally reached out and gently touched the drop, thinking my finger would complete the join. It did, but most of the drop remained. The system was much more stable than I realized. Even more beauty.
Then I thought, "How can I share this?" I had no way of getting a camera there. I couldn't believe I would be the only person to see such a sight. When I touched it, the answer came. The answer was like a bolt. It was the answer to the numbness, as well. Three words filled my mind like a shout. Do it again!
I could find a leaf like that. I could add water. I could rebuild that scenario. It wasn't such a fluke. I could also do like now, and describe it. Tell the story. Replay it in my mind as often as I wanted.
But those three words filled the numbness that brought me to the lake. I could do it again. I could make friends, build relationships, create a good life that would be just as beautiful as the last fifteen years. It would be just as much work, but I could do it again.
A year into the new life, I took a class about storytelling and really, about creativity. One exercise had us take an image and describe it to another class member. I chose the boy rebuilding the destroyed city. I felt the frustration again. Relived the doubt and fear. Felt the anger when things just fell apart. Then, the instructor had us change location. So I did. I blew the clouds away and rose the sun up bright and warm. I moved the building site to the beach and turned the pieces into sand. The boy's heart changed. Now, he wasn't struggling with a heavy task, but playing. Friends came and went, and his creations did as well. The pieces of broken city he had been building were now building blocks and ideas for new and better creations. As he looked back along the beach, he could see his many beautiful creations. He remembered each one clearly and had beautiful memories of the friends and family that had built each particular castle. Some friends stayed with him for several parts. Some came for one, then left, only to return again.
The leaf lesson, "do it again," was fully learned. Not everyone spends their whole life building a single castle that needs constant protection and repair from the waves. Some people have several castles along the beach with wonderful memories and stories to tell of each and the friends who were there along the way. Some people fit several different lives into the time they have here.
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