Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Change: that old thing?

I had a pleasant email exchange with a friend this morning about what I've always known as "second sight," a kind of ESP some people have that tells them of impending events. In my Kentucky days I knew several people who were so gifted. They were just plain folks who every now and then got "visions,"-- strong premonitions that usually turned out really to predict an important happening, either in their own lives or those of their loved ones. I was attracted to these people, had a special affection for them, even before I knew of their unusual ability. They seemed relaxed in their own skins--what we now call centered--and accepting of circumstances and people on their own terms. I don't know why there should be so many such folk in Kentucky; the only thing I know they all had in common was a strong grounding in the charismatic churches of Appalachia. They weren't Bible-thumpers by any means, and all of them had stopped attending regular services by the time I knew them. But their earliest memories were of people "getting the spirit." Speaking in tongues, having the ability to run in the woods, eyes closed, without crashing into anything, breaking into wild, spontaneous dance literally when the spirit moved them, were common, even mundane occurrences for them. They were completely at home with the possibility of other realities. At a very deep level, I envied them and was fascinated with them, while at the same time having no desire to develop whatever potential I may have had in a similar direction. One of my favorite expressions begins, "In my next life I'll........". I say it as a joke (late for the bicentenntial celebration in 1976, I swore I'd be on time for the tricentennial) but in truth I'm completely open to the possibility that my facetious bon mot may actually be true.

So while I don't have second sight and don't particularly want it for myself, my earliest experiences and even the circumstances of my adult life did prepare me for at least one important thing: the inevitability of loss. I've often had occasion to compare my reaction to negative events--the loss of a beloved friend through a move or death, a sudden health emergency--and found myself wanting. But then I realize that I've "lost" friends for as long a time as I can remember and just got used to it.

Even though I have a sister, she is 10 years older than I am and I was raised essentially as an only child. Circumstances taught me to value companionship. Before I started school, Don, the boy who lived across the street, was the kid I hung out with. I clearly remember looking forward to going to school with him and being in the same classroom. We'd lend each other support. Alas, his parents sent him to another school and we were separated. That was my first loss. I had to face school alone, and I shed some tears. But then I learned something about myself: with no one else to lean on, I could do just fine.

Since our neighborhood was only a few minutes' drive from the Pentagon, lots of young military families passed through it as the fathers did their obligatory 2-year DOD tours. The Rosackers were one of those families. So well can I see Mrs. Rosacker standing at our front door with two little boys in tow. She came to introduce herself to my mother and see if I could play with her kids. One of them, Gus, was exactly my age and we quickly became fast friends, closer, even, than Don and I had been. Gus and I did everything together, finished each others' sentences, laughed at the same jokes. Inevitably, though, in two short years, he was gone. Over the years this happened so often that all of us permanent kids on the street simply became inured to the eventual loss of these special friends, and learned to savor their presence while we had it. As we got older, these boys and girls had lived all over the world and gave us provincial hicks who had never left the neighborhood a window on other lives and realities. I never left Meadow Lane and yet I became pretty cosmopolitan in my outlook. I was so accustomed to imagining alternative possibilities with alternative people that the idea of the Peace Corps wasn't outlandish at all to me when the time came to consider it. And then, lo and behold, I had an entire career at the Peace Corps, where there is constant staff turnover because of the five-year employment rule. I realize I've lived with never-ending change for my whole life, resulting in a huge cast of memorable, well-loved characters, some of whom are now distant, but others remain close and dearest friends.

And so the loss of this dream of a new life is hard to take but I'm not broken by it. Thinking of alternatives is hard-wired in me, and already we are optimistically exploring new possibilities. There is always fear of the unknown, and these are especially scary times. But we'll make it. We always have, and besides, we have no choice. That alternative is one we can do without.


Anonymous said...


Very interesting post. I enjoyed reading it and re-reading it. With your attitude, optimism and sense of adventure, you are bound to latch onto a new dream very quickly.

My best to you both,

Linda in Chapel Hill

Jeff said...

So some of your story comes out! And you were the baby of the family like I was - 12 years between me and my sister, 16 years between me and my brother.
Regarding loss, just recently read about the death of Kay Yow, head basketball coach at North Carolina State University. She had a motto taped to her wall:

"When life kicks you, let it kick you forward."

There's still lots of territory to explore and we still have our health and senses available to do it. We do it every day. Why stop now? :)
- J.

Ralph said...

You're so right, Jeff. Self-pity and sadness are the natural human reaction to some of the things that meet us in our paths, but if we use our brains and remember the good that coexists with the bad, we can get past our more basic natures. I'm still scared by what I don't know about the future. But I can't let the fear cripple me.

Too bad you started visiting so relatively late here--my early posts were full of this self-revelatory stuff--long posts filled stories I was bursting to tell, so I told them. Then I had to move on, and most of what you read now is that second iteration.

Ralph said...

Thank you, dear Linda. As a matter of fat, North Carolina is one of the places we're looking at...the mainland Soundside coast...

Peewit said...

three things

1) picking up on today's post I too despite being in the U.K. had a succession of US military personnel's children as next door neighbours. There was a large USAAF base a couple of miles from our house and the house next door was rented out to USAAF personnel. It certainly broadened my horizons beyong a North West London suburb. We had neighbours from Portland, Oregon From Wichita and From Sheyenne in North Dakota (in the the latter family the father was probably a Lakota,certainly native american, and he would show the naive English boy his artefacts (I certainly remain a feather headdress) I also remember a family that was connected with Vancouver and whose family originally came from the outer Hebrides which is where my wife's family is from. Looking back though I 'm not quite sure why a Canuck would have been working at a USAAF base. (having said that we have a Nato base 2 miles in the other direction so he may have worked there) On a digression on this point the Landlord of the property although English was a long term resident of Nigeria. so when he and his family periodically visited I heard tales of Kano

Back to my three things,secondly as with Nan in her comment on yesterday's post I can no longer see your masthead picture or indeed your photo. My own photo (My peewit that is not the real me)disappeared from my blog too But after refresshing the page it has reappeared. This is odd.

and thirdly, I couldn't help thinking of you when I read this piece on the train on the way home


the newsprint version had a great phot of the house itself. I thought you and Steve could maybe offer $101 for it and then even Mrs Fuld would make a profit!

Anonymous said...

North Carolina, I was a life guard at Kitty Hawk for a Summer. Loved it. There are so many places with water views less expensive then Rehobeth Beach, DE. But when I look at the picture on your blog, it has to be God's country. Great place to retire to. I feel bad that you had to do what you had to do and just put that dream in the back basket. And to answer the W statement in the below comments you wrote, I really lived those 8 years and can say with great confidence that any president, at any time in history, has a moral obligation to put the brakes on when he sees it coming. He did NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. Just like letting the people die in New Orleans. NOTHING. And when you have that kind of leadership, you don't need any help from history, other Presidents, Reagan/Clinton who ever you choose. It's the one who is working the block today that has to decide. Bush let the whole country drop into the shitter all at once.

Ralph said...

Z&M, I have to agree you're right about Bush--hadn't thought of it that way.

On that other subject--we'll find a place. We like NC a lot, if it comes to that...

Ralph said...

Peewit, isn't it amazing how our outlooks can be broadened simply by the luck of the draw? We were provincials, but we lived in very interesting neighborhoods and took advantage of it!

Don't know what's up with the picture. Nan said it appeared for her through Firefox but not through IE. I use Firefox and can see it. I went in through IE and saw it there, too. Dunno....

Heck, we'd offer $150 for that house in Florida!

Mim said...

You're certainly full of inspiration for me. I don't tend to go as positive when first hit with a big change.
And Steve, how he is he weathering all of this.
I'd say Outer banks would be a great place to buy/build.
We are headed there in mid Feb to a little house along beach road, which is ownded by a friend of ours.I love it there in winter when no tourists are around.
I love your optimism and can do attitude. And your self revelations today....in the midst of all this doom and gloom.
Oh and we got snow and ice too.
How about you.. are you iced in?

Ralph said...

Hi, Mim. I guess if I seem positive now it's because for the past year I've been stewing and worried about an idea that I was always afraid in my heart of hearts wouldn't work. Our plans were very dependent on the economy, and as that deteriorated, so did our prospects. At least that's the way I saw it. So any optimism and good feeling now are from the relief at having that long-carried, impossible burden removed.

We, too, love the OB in the winter, but we'll be looking at the "Inner Banks," land on the creeks and rivers that run off the sound into the mainland. Little developments are going up there and land is still fairly inexpensive. It's not as prone there to flooding and hurricane damage as the exposed Outer Banks.

Steve seems to be adjusting and thinking along with me of alternatives. At least he's not mired in black.

The weather is a mess here, just a mess. Frozen rain on top of ice on top of snow. Nothing seems to be falling out of the sky now, so at least people can de-ice their cars and dig themselves out.