Saturday, January 22, 2011

Trajectory and Intersection...

I have not spent many hours of my life in protestant churches. I'm what they refer to as a "Cradle Catholic".  This means I was raised on a healthy diet of ritual, incense and tradition thousands of years old. Part of what comes along with the sense of home, comfort and familiar that the Mass brings, is the exact opposite feeling when a Catholic enters a different sort of church.  This can be unsettling, but it can sometimes be an impetus to really open your heart and listen.

One of the most soul-sticking sermons I've ever heard was in a Baptist church.  I've oft quoted it to friends who find themselves in dark, uncertain times and have embraced it numerous times this year.  The pastor said, "Wouldn't it be nice if God gave us a big, bright spotlight that shone all the way down our path and illuminated it so that we could see exactly where to go with our lives? But.....He didn't. He gave us a puny little flashlight, and we poke along in the darkness, winding, turning and making choices based on the tiny circle of light a few inches in front of our face. We live, day to day, making choices based on what is illuminated for us by our pathetic little flashlights."

I truly believe that my trajectory in the past 20 years of my life has been a testament to his accurate depiction of how our lives truly unfold.  I look back on decisions I have made with my tiny flashlight-beam-illumination, and see how drastically my path would have veered left or right had I had a little more foresight....a bit stronger batteries in the flashlight.  I have made some decisions that, as it unfolded, were brilliant compared to the amount of available information they were based on.  Conversely, I made some really painful, damaging decisions that will continue to reverberate in my life, never allowing me to forget the path I chose with dim light and poor attention to intuition.  The ghosts of my choices both haunt me and keep me company.  Their presence in my life serves, in alternating cadence,  as an admonition and as warm, satisfying approval.

I look back and realize that we set off as young adults from our launch pad, and our choices, effort and tenacity draw the line of our trajectory.  So often, the arc of  such has no obvious meaning to us until we hit an intersection...a point in time and space where our trajectory crosses that of another.

Sensing that this little essay has gone a bit vague and metaphorical, let me nail down a real-life example.

When my son was born, we struggled as a family to provide the best possible care for him as an infant, considering I had to return to work when he was three months old.  The saga of his childcare ran the gamut of perfect, adequate, horrible, to perfect again....It was a roller coaster, emotionally, financially, and mentally.  When my daughter was born, we were in a very good place with our son, and I felt such tremendous relief that the stress I suffered with her brother would not be repeated. That's, of course, when life began laughing at me.  The rug was pulled out from under us and we were back to square one with our daughter's care.  I cried for two weeks straight.  Little did I know that this subtle arc in my trajectory was lining me up for a point of intersection that would change the course of the rest of my life.  It was, through an act of desperation, that I enrolled Evangeline in a daycare completely across town, and came to know my dear friend, Kandy, whose trajectory had been running parallel with mine, unknown and unnoticed.

Over the next year, our friendship weathered a series of changes in my life that eventually took me to unemployed and searching, with a flashlight whose batteries seemed weaker and weaker as the days went by, until that certain day, I sat...sad, dejected, and without direction, in Kandy's office. Somehow, our conversation took a turn to the left, and a new chapter in my life began--right then and there.  And I felt it...down deep. The light got brighter.  I had energy. I had motivation. I had renewed hope. Part of it was that Kandy is the type of person who is an inspiration without ever trying. She sees the good in people, believes in them, and loves without limits.  She's the kind of person I try to be.  However, the other part was that I had simply come to the place where my life was stripped down, laid open, and in a position to accept a sharp turn away from what I had thought was going to be my future.  It was a perfect storm of vulnerability, fate, serendipity, and miracle. The stars lined up, and I basked in the fleeting glow of certainty. It was one of those points of bliss where trajectory intersects at just the right moment in time and space.

Kandy and I will both graduate from nursing school later this year. We will both be there, for one another, sitting in the audience at our respective ceremonies, with what can only be described as our own little secret.  Only we truly know how it felt to share a moment when we made brave choices, together, to change our trajectory. My career will forever be tied to hers. Our dream was born together, in a moment of illumination.  She will forever be a part of the advent of something beautiful in my life.

So, with that concrete example under my belt, I'll slide back into symbol and say that it strikes me as no coincidence that one year from the date of the hardest, darkest change in trajectory I have ever experienced, I once again find myself in a place of illumination-- a place of light and hope and intersection.

Perhaps the more moments like this we experience, the more comfortable we become with them. When I was younger, with less experience to draw from, moments of clarity brought with them a certain type of fear. Perhaps one of the gifts of age and suffering and living fully is an openness to moments of bliss... times and experiences that can't be explained, described or predicted.

 I have come to peace and terms with the courage it takes to keep taking steps forward, despite the darkness that is all around. The small circle of light is comforting. My flashlight batteries are fresh.


  1. And I've got an extra flashlight and new batteries any time you need them :)

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  4. "I have come to peace and terms with the courage it takes to keep taking steps forward, despite the darkness that is all around..." Oh, Katie, you brought tears to my eyes. Your words are so true. Thank you for sharing yourself here.

  5. The trajectory and illumination is an interesting approach.
    I feel darkness around me and in me at various times. Sometimes it's people's actions, or my own doubts. Knowing for me that sometimes I need to go through dark patches to get someplace better, I do try to light a candle, turn on a flashlight rather than curse the darkness.