Ways of Seeing, Laurie Cox: Shining a light produces top result
It’s October, and once again I find myself rubbing the right side of my forehead. I can feel the slight grooves in my skull where it hit the banister and broke it from the wall at the bend in our stairs. Nine or ten years have passed, and yet a subtle ache returns every autumn — or should I say fall?
It was late at night. I had been reading in the next room, waiting to get drowsy enough to sleep, and then I realized I was nodding, ready for bed. Turning off the bright lamp, my eyes perceived nothing but blackness. I knew precisely where I was going, so I ignored this temporary blindness. Through the door, along a short stretch of hallway, and then into our bedroom. I took my next step forward, but the bedroom floor was not beneath my feet. There was nothing beneath my feet — an abyss. I instantly knew it was the stairs, but I was already heading into space; it was too dark and I was too disoriented to have any hope of catching myself. The best I could do was yell for my sleeping husband as I fell forward into nothingness, into the corner of the stairs, the banister, the wall.
It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me: not the fall, per se, or even the injuries sustained. No, it was that moment of nothing under my feet when I had expected floor, the hurtling into what seemed for a moment (an eternity?) like boundless space. I am someone who likes to know where I am going.
As I stopped falling, my biggest concern was that I be alive, not paralyzed, no major brain injury, nothing to impact my self-sufficiency. The ambulance, ER, and the prospect of having a face as scary as a Halloween mask — just in time for that holiday — were simply footnotes to me. Luckily, I was OK and was going to heal. All was well. We immediately bought some nightlights for the hallway and stairs.
Looking back, I think: what can be worse than feeling safely confident in what is about to happen, but entering a different and perilous reality? Perhaps you can avoid it (put in a nightlight!). Maybe there is no avoidance (a hurricane destroying an entire island). You can make plans, preparations, be pro-active, but you also need to realize there are things you can and cannot control. Your control is not always complete, but I say use your power to control what you can.
Sometimes you just need to be willing to bring a bit of light on your concept of reality to find out if it is illusion, delusion, or solid. A politician may promise to bring back jobs, manufacturing, to help the “working man.” That sounds good. Those kinds of jobs used to pay pretty good wages, even for someone right out of high school. But let’s not step into the dark here. What kind of history does this person have in helping the “working man”? How does he feel about the unions that helped make those jobs strong? Do you really want to step out into an illusion and find yourself plunging into an abyss of chaos, threats of nuclear holocaust, losing your healthcare, clean water, fresh air, and — of course — no jobs actually brought back? When someone tells me they are a single issue voter, I wonder: Do you think ahead? How easily one issue may be lost by the flood of others that follow.
Even Presidents can be lured into missteps. Watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Viet Nam War, I realized how a series of Presidents stated their misgivings and sense of hopelessness in carrying out that war, and yet each believed that he would not be re-elected if he pulled our country out. In pursuit of their dreams of re-election, their sense, perhaps, of their own greatness, they caused vast numbers of American soldiers, Vietnamese soldiers and civilians to lose their lives. And what of their re-elections? Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson decided not to run, and Nixon resigned. Each in his own way fell down the abyss, taking thousands of people along with them.
We may not be able to predict that a 150-year-old house is going to wash away in the next flood, but we would be wise to not re-build it in the same location. When I take a step now, I want to know my foot is landing on something solid enough to support me. I carry flashlights. I look where I am going. I hope so much that our nation will do the same.
Laurie Cox is a retired school counselor and long-time Ripton selectboard member. Besides occasional writing, she sings with Maiden Vermont, pursues art, takes long hikes with her dog(s) and seasonally gardens. She also is becoming more actively involved in things political, environmental, and just.
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