Musings on the way things are, or might have been.

by John McManamy


BELOW are a series of brief musings from way back, slightly updated ...

First Short Snippet

Ten years ago, a member of my family had open heart surgery. The operation took five hours as doctors cracked her open like a lobster, took her heart out of the body and grafted four sections of veins from her leg to bypass the four partially blocked arteries in her heart. In addition, they replaced her aorta valve with muscle tissue from a cow. Then they put her back together again.

The next day, she was laughing and joking. A few days later, she was transferred to a care facility for physical rehab. Not long after, she was back to singing and tap dancing. The surgery, unfortunately, did nothing to correct her total lack of musicality. A heart operation may well be one of the most complex procedures known to medical science, but when it’s over there is a sense of completion - of rebirth, even - of one being fully restored to good health.

By contrast, taking a pill or two for depression or bipolar is a deceptively simple exercise, one that utterly belies the intricately subtle chemical processes taking place throughout the brain, all of it off-limits to the surgeon’s scalpel. But having swallowed our pills, who amongst us can claim that same sense of completion? If only getting our brains back in working order were as simple as heart surgery. If only we had that kind of option.

Second Short Snippet

Many spiritual beliefs teach us we pick the lives we're born into, and many times I have played the scene in my head, of me a half century ago ready to disembark the godly planes as I negotiate with my cosmic broker the terms for my upcomingearthly existence. I have been singled out, he informs me. I can have all the worldly success of a George Bush Republican, he lets me know. The catch is I will BE a George Bush Republican. The other path, he tells me, leads to a deeper humanity and spirituality through a trail of a thousand sorrows.

I am clearly being honored. Precious few souls, I realize, are presented with such spectacular options. Nevertheless, I find myself trying to strike a better deal.

Can't I have the spirituality and humanity, I ask, with the Republican success, without the sorrows? And the cosmic broker only laughs. He sees my hesitation, then presents me with another choice - of a successful but modest professional life, a family,security, perhaps a light karmic obligation or two. He catches the wistful look in my eyes, of a simple dream denied by someone who has already made up his mind. He reaches over and hands me the thousand sorrows documents, which I sign without reading.

God, I hate you! I hear myself crying out many years later. But God doesn't hold this against me. God knows the deal, even if you and I can only imagine it.



Third Short Snippet

There’s a parallel universe out there where I married the girl I dated in high school. There’s yet another parallel universe that finds me with the girl I was afraid to date. Yet more parallel universes backtrack further into my youth, recrossing key crossroads, turning this way where I had previously turned that way, turning that way where I had previously turned this way. Other parallel universes are more recent in origin, involving choices I made well into adulthood.

Every conceivable possibility is mapped out to infinity, all of them painful. Yes, one can be extremely grateful for having avoided the obvious disasters, but the could-have-beens leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Consciously, I choose to live in the present, in this universe, but then at the least expected moment, usually engaged in the most mundane task, a little piece of long-forgotten memory jars loose and takes me by surprise - a woman I met in college, a person I played in a band with, a ninth-grade history teacher, and - bam! kapow! - a new parallel universe.




Sometimes, I even allow myself the indulgence of imagining a happier more successful me occupying some small point in the time-space continuum.

Inevitably, though, all those countless parallel universes converge, for no matter which direction my life could have taken every one of them, sooner or later, would have smashed head-on into the condition I was born with, and suddenly I find myself a helpless bystander. Like an imploding supernova, there goes my marriage to the girl I dated in high school, not to mention the one I was afraid to date. My dream personality, my dream family, my dream career, everything nothing. One thing you can say about this illness, it is the great leveler, no universes excepted.



Fourth Short Snippet

My grown daughter is a joy to be with. She knows all about my illness and tries hard to understand me. Her questions are intelligent and penetrating and I am good at explaining. But then she makes a comment that makes me realize that she is an outsider looking in. I am saddened, of course, but the realist in me says the only way you can understand this illness is to have it.

That night I find myself praying to God that my daughter may never understand me.

First published in the early 200s, latest consolidation and revision Jan 14, 2011, reviewed Dec 3, 2016.


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