Parallel lines and parallel lives - that is all that I can think about. We talk about different people leading parallel lives. I have two friends from high school, Brian and Kevin, who went to college together, then law school, both did a judicial clerkship, joined the same law firm, were married in the same year, bought houses in the same town and then had two children, the same ages of course. Now that is what I call parallel lives.
But can one person have parallel lives? I am not talking about multiple personality disorder. I am talking about having days or periods of a life which seem to be completely different from other days and periods. You begin to wonder if you are the same person.
On a recent trip to Florida, on a Monday morning I hurtled my body in a car down Interstate 75. I was traveling from Ocala to Fort Myers, about a four and a half hour trip. I started the trip with enthusiasm but after a half hour I began to start looking at the clock to see how long I had been driving. Only a half hour! It felt like two. I was worse than a little kid asking, “Are we almost there?”
The radio had few stations out there in the middle of Florida. And the stations that I could find played lousy music. It was a gray day. Who cared? I had a lot of thinking to do. I had come to Florida to visit some relatives and during my spare time to plan the rest of my life. That is all. But I was not coming up with any answers! The next four hours were repetitive questions and an endless self-induced torturous lack of answers.
Five days later I repeated the same drive but this time headed north, traveling the same highway on a line one hundred feet parallel to Monday’s fiasco. The sun was shining. The one radio station I found was great and I was whistling and singing along. The scenery and signs along the way were interesting. My favorite one was “Construction Next 21.98 Miles.” Those people in Florida are precise.
I stopped for lunch at Reuben’s Eatery in Wesley Chapel, Florida, avoiding the chain restaurants. It did not disappoint. The decor was pizza shop minimalist, the food was great and the waitress called be “baby.” As in, serving my lunch with “There you go, baby.” I had just about become used to being called “honey” every where in Florida, but “baby” was way beyond that and it warmed my heart.
I made some other stops along the way, finding a great gift shop with schlocky Florida souvenirs. The whole trip flew by and was a great success. Why? What had changed from Monday?
The answer is that I changed. The middle three days of the week I had spent alone on a retreat. I knew that I needed some time by myself and for myself. I checked into a hotel on the harbor front and spent some time just crashing and letting my body recover from the stresses of life. But then I ventured out and explored the city on foot.
I did not do anything wildly exciting. I visited coffee shops and a museum. I walked the waterfront and watched the boats. I sat behind the third base dugout in the empty winter ballpark of the Boston Red Sox. I watched the owner of the pizza buffet give harp lessons to her four blonde little daughters behind the cash register. I lived simply and I simply lived.
I take these retreats periodically, usually about twice a year. I wish that I could say that I schedule them in advance, but they happen when I have hit the wall and I need a time out from life. The sites have varied: an inn in Bartlett, New Hampshire, a healing center in Sedona, Arizona, a Holiday Inn Express on the strip in small Payson, Arizona. The nature of the place is not important. The content of the activity need not be planned. Sometimes I read a lot and at other times I walk a lot. What I need is always provided. I somehow always get what I need.
I did not ask myself penetrating questions on my trip back up the highway, because I had discovered that the questioning was not the activity which I needed at this time in my life. For now, I needed to get back to noticing the bounty of the life all around me. My retreat brought me to that place where I needed to be.
It really was not a parallel life. It was more of a three dimensional hologram. I learned from my friend, Jack, that even if you cut a hologram in half, each half still contains the whole. The parallel lines of that interstate contained the whole, the multiple parts of me. As I drove south I contained the seeds of what I needed to change, and as I drove north, with the help of a time out, I embraced the day with a perspective that only the darker days can provide.