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Feeding the Absence: Moving Forward


  Almost every day, I drive past a man who is a crossing guard for a school. He isn’t the kind of man who makes eye contact with drivers, but I’ve seen him chatting up pedestrians on the regular. Last week, it was actually sunny and warm out – something that I thought would never happen again, forever, given the atrocious winter that bespoke the White Queen from Narnia. To be fair, I did have a rather large amount of chocolate over the winter, which might make me Edmund. Damn it. I hate this analogy. Let’s get back to the point: it was sunny. As I was driving past the school, I came to a full stop. You see, the crossing guard had the stop sign in his hand raised up. I didn’t see any incoming pedestrians, but I deferred to the guard’s authority. It turned out that there weren’t any pedestrians; he was just blocking the sun, thus confusing the hell out of me, and I imagine everyone else.

            Again, he didn’t make eye contact, even though I tried to catch his attention. That’s not relevant to the story. It’s just a pet peeve. So, that little escapade stuck with me. It made me think about we do one thing with a particular intention, but it often has unintended side effects. And we may not mean for our actions to be perceived a certain way, but they are taken at the obvious, face value – not the less easy to assess way we might’ve intended.

            Last week, although later in the week, a friend said something to me in an almost offhand manner. It was smack in the middle of a smattering of other things, and to be honest, it didn’t really strike me until later – much like the crossing guard’s unintended/intended meaning. The statement my friend made wasn’t intended to be harsh. It was something, I suppose, borne out of concern. And yet, it pointed to a gaping hole in the middle of my heart, a circumstance and a fear that I have absolutely no sway over. It’s the kind of thing that happened at the right time – that is to say, a vulnerable time. No matter how much I’ve attempted to shove it out, I cannot evict that bastard of a sentence with any kind of crowbar. In truth, it has collided with a perfect storm of unease and a few staggering realizations. The past weeks have felt like there are battles on every side and my foxhole isn’t quite deep enough. Dramatic? Maybe. But it isn’t untrue.

            So, I’ve just been sitting with it – that one, remarkably ordinary sentence that wormed its clever way into my insecurities. I mean, yesterday, I was searching for a quote online, and I found one completely unrelated to the kind I was looking for. But there it was, all gloriously honest and gutting. It was about feeling alone after losing a parent – because you’re going into every fight without feeling like you have that backup that you used to have. I’ll be honest: that hurt like hell. There’s something painfully isolating about losing your mother. Or, perhaps, about losing my particular mother. My mom and I did often argue. We didn’t always see eye to eye. But no matter what was going on, she had my back. No questions. No debating. Even if she thought I was wrong. Maybe especially then. I guess I’ve been feeling that absence keenly lately.

            And the thing that my friend casually said? Well, it fed into that absence, that unbelievably tender spot. It’s not the kind of thing that heals, I’ve realized. It just hurts differently. Now, my friend was just trying to help me see a situation clearly. My best interest was the motivation. But like that crossing guard who simply intended on blocking out the sun, but ended up stopping traffic instead – the actual impact is far deeper and much different than the original meaning.

            Sometimes, how we mean something and its actual impact are vastly disparate. Sometimes, we say one thing and mean/do another. We are strange, inconsistent creatures at heart. But I often find myself puzzling at how we see ourselves in those moments, when our actions have unintended consequences. Make no mistake – we’re all guilty of it. We all try and block the sun, only to end up blocking traffic. Figuratively in most cases.

            I suppose that the lesson here is this: when you’re stopped, you cannot rely on someone else to shove you forward. You are the one who decides where you go from this moment. You are the one in control. Because, yes, someone did something to you – and it had an influence, an impact. But you’re the one in the driver’s seat. You’re the one who decides. Don’t let a momentary snag – a momentary hurt – keep you from going where you intend to go. Don’t let someone else’s foolishness keep you from what you want, from what you love, and from what you deserve.

            Don’t settle. Don’t wallow. And darlings? Don’t hold back.

  1. April 15, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    This is absolutely wonderful–the analogies and metaphors and significance and all. Great job, Ali.

    • April 17, 2014 at 11:13 am

      Thank you so much, Christopher — that is lovely to hear. I’m glad that you enjoyed this. 🙂

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