I've had some fun travelling. When I started doing a lot of it, the old shuttle hub in the Pittsburgh airport was in use and the atmosphere was pretty much like an old bus or train station. Smelled like one, too. There was usually someone I knew headed to or from Jamestown, so I had someone to talk to. They used to have these tiny shuttle planes; little twin-engine prop jobs with a dozen seats. No flight attendant, no coffee, and an open view of the cabin. They were great.
Adding to the fun was flying over territory I was familiar with: stretches of the Allegheny River, towns between Pittsburgh and Jamestown, etc. On longer flights, fascinating vistas opened up, like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, the Grand Canyon, ocean coastlines, and skylines of Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York City. At night, the lights from a city would show up as points of interest in the darkness below.
But among the most fascinating things, once I got used to looking for them, were old riverbeds. In some places, there are curved fields bordered by rows of old trees, probably third or fourth generation or older. They demarcate centuries-old river courses. There are curves, loops, and circles that appear when viewed from miles above. If you were walking in the area, you wouldn't even realize they were there. But they still define where streams and rivers once flowed.
I read this article one time that included a diagram of how this works. Imagine an ancient landscape with a river running straight through it from north to south. All of a sudden (a few thousand years in geologic time) a boulder rolls from the west bank into the river. It changes the flow of the river a little and directs the water toward the east bank. The east bank erodes into a curve and sends the water back toward the west bank. More erosion occurs and pretty soon (more centuries) the once-straight river is a series of s-shaped bends; all those loops you can still see from the air.
Then the bends get more and more severe and form light bulb shaped peninsulas. Then after a few thousand major spring floods, the neck of the peninsula erodes a way. There's an island for a while but then the main course of the river wins out, the island is "reattached" to the opposite shore from where the peninsula was and that section of the river is once again straight!
Again, from high above, there are lots of vestiges of every phase of this process. S-bends, straight areas, disconnected loops that form ponds, then maybe swamps. The process has been going on since creation.
Yeah, so? You might ask
Well, I am continually amazed at how our lives mirror nature. How many of us HAVEN'T been in a situation where things are running smoothly, like the straight river at the beginning of the story, only to have a boulder fall in to the middle of everything changing the course dramatically? Who HASN'T had life take on a completely different course? Who HASN'T wondered why we are connected solidly to something or someone, like the peninsula, only to become an isolated island, then only to become reconnected to completely different things or people, only to have life straighten out again?
But the most interesting connection is that change, whether geological or personal, often takes time. We often think that if we recognize an issue and commit to making changes to address it, that something should happen pretty quickly. Granted, sometimes it does. A person might decide to quit smoking, or drinking, or angering "cold turkey." (I wonder where that phrase comes from?) But even though such a change can be immediate, we need to realize that it's probably not going to be perfect. With smoking or any other addictive-type issue, there might be serious withdrawal symptoms. There might be mood and behavior changes. There might be the substitution of something else, just as bad, for the old issue.
If we end a relationship or it is ended for us, we think we should be able to bounce back. Maybe not, at least right away. Grief doesn't follow our desired schedule. Or in the case of a partner relationship ending, we may feel the need for ANY relationship and can get involved again too deeply and too quickly. Pretty soon, our expectation of a perfect relationship can be shattered and it's worse than none at all.
The desire for the quick fix can cause as many problems as the original problem. "Hey Doc, I've got this pain in my ----- (fill in the blank: back, head, mood, soul, butt, etc) and I just saw an ad on TV for this pill." You'd be surprised at the number of clients who visit the Family Services office with an addiction problem that stemmed from the use of a legitimately-prescribed pain medication.
So, what's the rush? Sure, the boulder falling into the stream and setting off that amazing chain reaction was instantaneous, much like an accident that results in a painful back injury, a diagnosis or death that causes unique psychological trauma, or the failed relationship that set us up for emotional upheaval. Those are all things that create a change in our emotional landscape. But the boulder is still there even if we try to ignore it or "make it go away" at any cost. A lot has to transpire before the effect of the boulder disappears.
Next time a boulder falls into your stream of life, be sure to try a "35,000-foot view" of the scene. Like viewing the ancient river course from an airplane, you'll probably see that you have been successful in weathering all kinds of "erosion," "floods" and "boulders" of life in the past. Stop and think about the people, places and things that helped you. Avoid the people, places and things that made things worse. If necessary, try some new people, places, and things where new approaches or solutions might abound. And remember, too, that, like river courses, it might take a while for a change to happen in your life, especially if it's a Grand Canyon-sized change.
Gary Lester, M.S., is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.