Fantastic Friday: I *get* to

One of my favorite novels is Ray Bradybury’s Dandelion Wine. In the novel, the main character has an epiphany that he is alive. I have written about this in my blog several times over the years. I know it sounds simple: yes, if you are reading this, you are alive.

But do you really truly realize you are alive?

The other day, two very strange occurrences startled me out of the routine of my life. First, driving home, a large branch fell within feet of a pickup truck two cars ahead of me. The branch fell across the entire roadway. The pickup truck drove by unscathed: I’m not sure the driver even realized the branch had fallen. It wasn’t windy, stormy, rainy, or anything. The branch spontaneously fell. The car behind the pickup truck and the driver two cars in front of me cleared the branch from the roadway—it wasn’t too heavy, and it probably would have caused only minor damage to the truck.

But I thought it odd that a branch should fall without provocation. And how odd that the truck missed it by possibly a fraction of a second. If it had been a novel instead of real life, I would have made a note that the branch was some kind of foreshadowing—an omen.

But it wasn’t a novel, so I drove home only a bit startled by the occurrence. I guess the message from the universe wasn’t blunt enough for me. I had more in store…

Later, I had to head out for a mascot reveal event I was supposed to take pictures of. I was headed out, camera around my neck, when I realized I should grab my extra camera battery just in case. I turned and walked back to my room to grab the battery—an action that took all of two seconds.

Then I hurried out to the garage, started the car, and headed off. I looked at the clock. It was 7:59. I had wanted to leave before 8 that evening, and I was irked as the clock changed to 8:00 as I pulled onto the road, as if it were mocking me. It’s crazy—with kids, you can never leave on time, but at least I was less than a minute late.

A storm had come through earlier—after the tree branch almost hit the truck, and after I’d safely arrived home and eaten dinner. The storm had cleared about an hour ago, and the air was still and cool.

I had gotten about 1/8 mile from my house when I heard a fantastic crackling sound breaking the stillness of the evening (I had my window down). I looked up.

The road leading to my house is lined with trees—very tall, towering deciduous trees. When I first moved here, I loved it. It felt like entering a magical tree tunnel that was somehow removed from the real world. In an instant, that magic became a liability.

Just ahead of me, a huge piece of tree (part of the trunk? A thick branch? I couldn’t tell) had cracked from the base of its trunk and was tumbling to the ground from high above. I slammed on the brakes and came to a stop with the branch blocking the entire roadway about two meters from my car.

I entered that mode where your body does things while your mind tries to catch up. My body had thrown the car in reverse, sending thoughts to me about other trees or branches possibly coming down in a domino effect. Get out of there, my body screamed.

My eyes were already looking in the rear-view mirror while backing up. Around the bend of the road behind me, a car sped toward me. My body braked again and threw the car into drive, conducting a three-point turn in record time. I realized my body had put the hazard lights on, too. Good job, panic mode! By the time I pulled into my driveway and turned off my hazards, my mind caught up. My hands were shaking.

I sat in my car for a while. Sent a quick email about missing the photo opp. Pondered the chances of that happening, of whatever specific elements of the laws of physics had to line up to send that tree spontaneously down as I was coming by. And the chance of it happening in a way that left me unscathed—physically.

Then I wondered if I should have tried to move the branch/trunk or called someone about it. Realized several of the cars arriving were probably doing so already.

I went in and hugged my family. I was shaken for at least a day. I tried to imagine what my life may have been like if I had left home two seconds earlier. The branch/trunk looked sizeable. Would my car have been crushed? Would I be swimming in paperwork and trips to auto detailers? Would I be car shopping with a totaled engine? Would I be at a hospital?

Would I even be alive?

The next day was filled with frantic preparations for the first day of distance learning in my district. Did I have my lessons posted? Was my camera, microphone in order? Were all the share settings right? Did I know how to take attendance? Had I sent all the introductory emails? There was no time to reflect on my personal life. Teachers seemed to be worrying about new policies and technology glitches, but those problems now seemed so distanced to me.

I had strange dreams that night that I cannot remember.

When I woke, the sun shone brightly. Everything seemed fresh and new. I took a walk to the place the branch had fallen to see how thick it was. Whether my mind made a bigger deal than it was.

downed tree trunk

Here is what was left 48 hours after it happened.

I’m pretty sure this would have done significant damage to me or my car, falling from the height of a four-story building.

When I came home from the walk, I continued cleaning out the office space I’ll be using for virtual teaching. Just a week ago, I thought about the daunting task of clearing the office space as something I had to do. Now, I saw it as something I get to do.

I found some CDs (if you are not old, CDs are a prehistoric way we used to play music ? ) that I hadn’t listened to in years. They Might Be Giants. Cake. I listened to them as I cleaned. Really listened. Heard the texture of the instruments, the nuances in the voices, the tone. They brought back memories. Why had I forgotten about them?

So much of my identity was shoved into the lowest strata of my life for what? Making sure my online course looks perfect? Making sure I can keep up with the ever-changing dictates of a district run by people who haven’t taught in a classroom in years? Trying to make my house look as clean as they do in magazines? (Does anyone even live that way?) Why had I thought that listening to music that made me happy was no longer a relevant thing in life?

I had become a data-inputter, a cook, a diaper changer, a dog walker, a trash-taker-outer, a dish washer. I was a robot. Robots do not need music or joy. They just have an unending list of things that need to be accomplished.

Here is the protagonist’s epiphany in Dandelion Wine:

“The grass whispered under his body. He put his arm down, feeling the sheath of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his toes creaking in his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The world slipped bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like images sparked in a crystal sphere. Flowers were sun and fiery spots of sky strewn through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped stones across the vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over his teeth, going in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with electric clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a millionth of an inch on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each ear, the third heart beating in his throat, the two hearts throbbing his wrists, the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores on his body opened. I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!”

That last part “If I did I don’t remember” rings true for me.

We get into ruts, routines, that make us more robot than human. When we are literally a cog in a machine, when we do things mechanically without caring, we need a reminder. The tasks in our lives are not things we have to do; they are things we get to do.

It’s easy to get bogged down by the pandemic, the economic hit, the mundane tasks of life that seem unending. I guess sometimes we just need to almost get hit by two consecutive branches falling randomly from above to remind us what a privilege it is to be alive, to put everything–even a cluttered office space–into crystal clarity.

Thanks, universe. And happy weekend.


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