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No Refills

by on March 2, 2018

                                                  No Refills

                                         by Marco M. Pardi

There are no second chances” Anon.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Some casual restaurants I’ve been in have menus specifying a no refill policy on drinks. A second drink must be ordered. While that may strike some as rude, I see it as an existential reminder. We can’t just go back and do it over again.

For perhaps the first half of my life the idea of going back and re-living some period was unimportant and not nearly as interesting as whatever would come next. On those occasions when I thought for a moment about possible past mistakes I stared ahead convinced my future actions would greatly eclipse any troubled past. Yet, it seems what is commonly said about aging – an increasing frequency of looking back and wondering what could have been done differently, is true. After all, we have far more behind us than ahead of us.

But every time I’m asked (and there are few of those since I rarely talk with anyone) what I would have done differently I remember when and why I lost confidence in the scientific method: A carefully repeated experiment should yield the same results every time. In fact, it does not; it yields only a macro approximation of the same results. It fails to account for quantum variations. In fact, the well known observer effect ensures no second iteration will truly replicate the original; the second, or third, or whatever experimenter already knows the results of the original experiment and, through a mechanism still not completely understood, skews the outcome of his experiment toward the expected result. The best that can be done is a thoroughly blinded experiment (the original results are hidden). But this, too, presumes the quantum state is “the same”.

When asked what they would have done differently in their lives many people preface their response with, “Knowing what I know now…”. Obviously, that in no way addresses the question of doing things over again. There is no “do-over” unless the entire cosmos does it with you. And then, how would you know? There are hypotheses in modern physics that we continuously repeat each instant, on an endless loop. If so, I sure as hell don’t want to know it.

How about experiencing a special moment again? For better or worse I have a very vivid memory of many, if not most events in my life. I clearly remember the night my daughter was born. Her mother had been in labor for close to 24 hours, I had unknowingly rubbed the small of her back raw. I repeatedly told the nurses the baby was likely a transverse arrest but they could not get the doctor to leave his dinner party and come to the hospital. The doctor finally showed up and I told him the same thing. He looked at me and said, “I have the degree, you don’t”. Moments later he yelled, “Transverse arrest” and rushed my wife into a gruesome surgery which damaged nerves throughout her right leg and caused my daughter to be born with eyes that looked like two deep red grapes. He lost his license soon thereafter.

But what might have been a traumatic event instantly became the transformative event in my life when I first set eyes on my daughter. I had “known” since age 12 I would have a daughter; I had not even considered a name for a male child. In the first instant I saw her the Past disappeared; only she was there. In that instant the Present disappeared; only she was there. And, though the future was more inviting than ever, only she was there. Never before or since have I felt so utterly filled with love.

Now, 47 years later, when I look at her I see the toddler scrambling about in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, the little girl carrying an uncomplaining cat in a cringe worthy position, defiantly mastering a bike without training wheels, graduating with highest honors from one school after another, and walking down the aisle with me, beneath a white veil. I have to consciously remind myself she is an adult woman and not a montage of countless scenes throughout life. Rightly or wrongly I have always felt I could never recapture that in another child.

After losing physical custody in a hard fought battle I expressed my deep dismay to someone I thought close to me. The reply: “Make another.” I ended that relationship that day.

Another timeless event occurred while I had some spare moments in the Fourth Arrondissement and ducked into Notre Dame cathedral to escape the hot sun. I was aware of the architectural theory underlying Gothic churches: the layout should resemble the human female reproductive anatomy, from the peaked arches of the entrance (labia majora) to the inner doors (labia minora) to the central aisle flanked by pews or chairs (vagina) to the two small divergent aisles and chapels (fallopian tubes and ovaries) and finally to the restricted sanctum (uterus) behind the communion rail where the Mass, particularly the transubstantiation, the change from earthly to divine substance was performed.

Many people assume the floor plan of early and medieval churches is based on the Christian cross. Modern analysis clarifies this: Romans crucified on a T, not a cross; the Christian cross almost certainly derives from the Egyptian Ankh, itself a symbol of eternal life and rebirth as exemplified in the reproductive system of the human female which it models. Modern scholarship is increasingly uncovering the Egyptian roots of much of Christian symbolism and iconography. But we are unlikely to see a refill of that.

I’m not a believer in a god. Nor do I know how much time I passed in Notre Dame. I do know I sat transfixed by the immense North Rosette window. It was as if I had been carried back through life and all that was small and materially real was on this side of the window while all that was immensely and truly real was just beyond my reach outside this window. Shining. Inviting. Just like the perfectly stained and placed pieces of glass, everything in the universe, especially concepts of past, present and future, was in its place, with no need of my help but my presence was some mysterious part of it.

As is always the case, no amount of return trips ever refilled that awe. I could not “Make another.”

But what about those bad moments, those moments we feel doomed to live over and over again? Going through the coverage of the latest school mass shooting I have not seen any mention of this but, after decades of dealing with people and traumatic events I am sure there are still those who counsel “Forget it. Put it out of your mind. Find something else to do.”

That is exactly the wrong thing to say, and the wrong thing to do. Like it or not that glass is broken. It cannot be refilled with a past that was before the incident. Those survivors, young or old, must remember so as to understand the profound and dynamic element which has been irremediably implanted into their evolving personas. Without that clear memory, and without the continuous but carefully metered process of analyzing how that memory of a “past” event is a dynamic part of their “present” life they will not understand the sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle ways these memories drive their behaviors toward themselves and others. We’ve become too accustomed to softening reality with euphemisms. People no longer die, they pass away. Of course, the implication is they pass into some other form, retaining their persona all the while. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. What we do know is they aren’t moving on their own, and we will either have to move them or move ourselves pretty soon.

We have become too accustomed to the extreme outcomes from PTSD, the suicides, the violence against others, the substance abuse and addiction. And so we miss the subtle influences and changes in a person’s make-up and behavior. I grew up with the influences of all out war shaping my family’s view of the world and how we should live. We lived through it in WWII Italy. Included in those influences was the overall view I held toward casualties, including children and those less able or unable to care for and protect themselves. I had a Yeah, that happens in war attitude toward those casualties. Years of exposure to television ads for relief of starving and sick children in various parts of the world only re-enforced my view that, Yeah, some people are lucky and some people aren’t.

What I did not realize, until the slaughter of first and second graders at Sandy Hook, was how deeply the birth of my daughter had affected me. To this day I cannot see the video of the children filing away from the school, hands on the shoulders of those in front of them, expressions of terror on their faces, without seeing my daughter at that age and wanting to rush in and wrap them in safety. The first time I saw the video and felt that all encompassing drive I came to realize I must be feeling empathy. That glass had never been sampled in this way, if at all. Now, I find myself hard pressed to hold my emotions as I watch coverage of people who have lost their children to one mishap, murder, or senseless carelessness after another. I see the children pulled bloodied from bombed and gassed buildings in the Middle East and want to stop the senseless violence. Yet, I’ve never had a thought for the terror expressed by my older brother as we listened for errant bombers over our supposedly “Open city” in Italy. Years after the war was officially over and we were in the U.S. he still hid himself when airplanes flew over our home to and from the airport.

I see children going hungry and wasting from nutrition related diseases while we as a nation throw out tons of food daily. I see children in desperate poverty largely brought on by religious intolerance of contraception. And, I dare not start on the abuses we heap on our non-human co-inhabitants of this demented world.

So, at times I worry I’ve become the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with buckets of empathy spilling over and refilling themselves beyond my ability to control. I apparently have a deep reservoir of frustration. And each passing day I might for a moment feel it has emptied itself. But then, it refills when I allow my attention to focus on our reality.

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8 Comments
  1. You can change the past by how you think about it.

  2. Thanks, Peace. I agree I can change how I see/feel the past, but the facts remain the facts. Marco

  3. You ask if your posts are worthwhile, and then you publish one of your best offerings to date. I have trouble registering my own feelings, and you do not often offer your owns; thank you for doing so here. This brought to mind some of my own memories of those rare occasions when time stood still, and nothing existed but that moment. You are correct that these moments could never be repeated, but what a gift to remember that they happened at all. Thank you, Rose.

  4. Thank you, Rose. What we experience in those moments is both the gift and the frustration of mysticism: a passing visit to a place we want to stay, but can’t. Yet we search for more. Marco

  5. raleighsportmick permalink

    Beautifully written piece Marco and I always get such a sense of “yes me too” as i am reading,, so articulate and you always capture the feeling aspect which I love. I can totally relate to your feelings about your daughter – I remember the complete euthoria i had after she was born and remember clearly so many of the challenges raising my daughter – I feel the key is to always do your best – whether that is ultimately right or wrong as intention is everything, luckily for me my daughter has become an incredible human and the most exceptional mother – using the word proud doesn’t come close. Also, I really liked your Sorcerer apprentice bit as I also could relate to what you said there – in the end this life in an engima that we live in – muddling through life the best way we can ❤
    Julie (not sure why my name isn’t at the top)

  6. Thank you so much, Julie.. Your comments bring me peace that I have connected with you. In so many ways parenthood is a glass which keeps refilling and I share your importance of intention. I’m sure we have both had those experiences in which our intentions were later realized by our children and our bonds grew stronger.

  7. Julie permalink

    Thanks Marco and apologies for the spelling errors :/ and also that my response was posted several times, I look forward to your next blog post.

    • You’re welcome, Julie and don’t worry about spelling. My grammar is so weird people just accept it as “style”.

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