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Composure: Getting Through Life With Dignity

Essay By: Bill Rayburn
Memoir


Dealing with the haymakers life throws with some grace, dignity and a will to survive. (approx. 610 words)


Submitted:Apr 3, 2012    Reads: 17    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


COMPOSURE

Car broke down today.

Would that push me over the edge...or galvanize me, as I feel my feet hit bottom and prepare to spring up?

I've become a goddamn drama queen. I think I have it bad? Shit. There is a woman I know online but have never met who is dying. It could happen any day. A cold could kill her. She is a talented and successful country singer. Recorded many albums, played all over the world. A wonderful voice. She is warm-hearted, in possession of a wonderful spirit, a deliciously acerbic and X-rated sense of humor, and she gets up each day knowing, KNOWING, it could be her last one on earth. She has problems.

Me? I have a screwed up, self-absorbed lack of perspective.

I worked for years with a man who is in a wheel chair. In his early 20s, he broke his spine frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean. I worked fairly closely with him, but I never saw him sad or depressed or despondent. Doesn't mean it didn't happen, but I never saw it. He was a super/over-achiever, rising up the masthead at my company to a very powerful position. He knew what everyone did, from the courier to the Publisher. He was bright, articulate and had an empathy that was amazing given his circumstances. He was as self reliant as anyone in a wheel chair could possibly be. So many people (me included) went to HIM for help. Not a single fiber of my being could imagine being confined to a wheel chair and wanting to go on. He thrived. He is still thriving.

If I think that, in the midst of my current blues, my car breaking down is hitting bottom, I am so tempting the fates to feed me a plate of real pain and heartbreak. To slap my naive face with some real downtime. I will not tempt those fates.

So, it's time to reach down, gently but deliberately grasp the bootstraps, and start the long slow pull back up.

I've been here before.

Reminds me of a vignette I will now share with you from a Robert Fulghum book:

"An acquaintance arranged for us (his wife and he) to visit a forest reserve north of Chiang Mai where elephants are still used for all the heavy work of logging. We were to view the operation from elephant back. A shaky ladder was tilted against the side of an elephant. We cautiously climbed up and onto an equally shaky wooden platform strapped to the elephant's back. The anxiety of getting on was matched by the anxiety of riding. We were a long way off the ground, and it felt as if we would be catapulted in that direction at any moment by the great lurching march of the beast below.

When the ladder was raised again for us to get off, I noticed a small sign attached to the top step.

NOTICE: INSTRUCTIONS FOR

DISMOUNTING FROM ELEPHANT.

FIRST, COMPOSE YOUR MIND.

MUCH EASIER TO GET DOWN THAN UP.

In the ensuing years, much of that trip around the world has faded from conscious memory. But indelibly written in the operating instructions for my life is that admonition from the top rung of that ladder in Thailand. The instructions continued, concerning holding on with both hands and not poking the elephant. But it was that first passage that spoke to me.

Even now, when I am about to make a move of consequence, small or large, a warning light flashes from the control panel in my head: 'This is an elephant dismount.' And sometimes, sometimes, I actually manage to compose my mind."





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