Saturday, March 01, 2008

Still blowing bubbles...

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s political season. You can hardly turn on the TV without seeing another debate or press conference. Even if I hate everything a given candidate stands for, there’s something about a press conference that still arouses a little sympathy from me. I can’t imagine what it’s like to submit your life, opinions, record, intelligence or lack thereof, wisdom or lack thereof, to the press and therefore the public, willing (usually) to answer whatever questions that are submitted to you. All eyes are on you, every nuance in your speech is analyzed, every facial expression is scrutinized. If it’s an honest debate or press conference, you never know what embarrassing question is lurking around the next corner. You realize that a great many people are cheering you on, but maybe even more people are hoping you fall flat on your face, make some kind of grave gaffe, or be otherwise humiliated. It must be a very tough situation.

Given my reaction, it is all the more surprising that last night I dreamed I was holding a press conference of some sort - about my life. I was in a church somewhere and had been asked to give some kind of autobiographical lecture, then open myself to questions from the public. I was asked to bring along whatever scrapbooks or pictures or meaningful objects I had that might shed light on my life.

I even had a prop for this press conference. I had brought a toy “smoking” pipe that blew soap bubbles, and I had planned on saying, “I know this is a church, so I’m keeping my act clean,” then blowing a few bubbles. (Well, in my dream I thought it would relax my audience with a few laughs.)

In preparation for this great press conference, I had assembled my scrapbooks, etc., and had started to go over them to choose things of interest. I dreamed that I kept tearing out pages and pages, thinking, “No one would be interested in that.” “What’s so great about that?” “Nope, that’s only meaningful to me.” What had originally looked like a full and eventful life was reduced little by little into not much of anything.

When I awoke, I relived the dream vividly in my mind. I understood the frustration involved, the fear, the self-evaluation, but I couldn’t figure out the significance of the bubble pipe. It wasn’t there just for some kind of soap joke - I knew it had meaning and I wanted to discover it, because I learn a lot from my dreams (maybe more than in my waking moments) and I knew the pipe was the key to the whole thing.

Then I realized what I think my subconscious was trying to say. For 53 years, I’ve blown bubbles with my life. The bubbles have appeared as if by magic; some have taken time and patience to get to a gigantic, incredible size, some have been an average diameter but they may have been able to float through a beam of sunlight and capture just the right rainbow of colors, some have been small but have congregated in a strikingly lovely pattern, some have appeared promising but have popped before they reach potential, and some fizzled right at their initiation and failed to materialize at all. We all are blowing bubbles. When we take that breath and exhale into the pipe, we never know quite sure what will come out. Yet we all keep trying, keep blowing, doing the best we can, enjoying one bubble for its short life before it becomes just a memory, until finally the bottle is empty. Even when it’s officially empty, sometimes we can squeeze out just a final few bubbles. Each bubble is a surprise, each is unique, but each has a fragile, limited life span - and oh, we are certainly aware of that most of all.

Some employees at my hospital are trying to drum up interest for a talent show to bring some fun into this long, snowy, dreary winter. I said I’d sing a couple of arias, so in preparation I brought out my book, “Famous Soprano Arias.” For the first time, I noticed the graphic on the front. It is a full-page peacock, sporting its bright jewel-tone colors of royal blue, gold, and neon green. Then I laughed. That peacock, of course, is a male! Why did they put a male on the cover of arias for females? Did they think no one would notice the discrepancy? We’re so used to female divas in the operatic world showing off their talents that we forget the drab peahen is actually the female of the peacock world, not the dramatic male.

As I look over my life so far, I see these two striking metaphors. I’ve blown all sorts of bubbles with the mixed results described above. There were times I was the flashy, colorful peacock, but most of the time I was the dull, uninspiring peahen. Yes, a lot of it would be boring to most people, but I have to admit that some of it makes me a more interesting person for having experienced it. Take away any of the bubbles, big or little, grand or insignificant, and I would not be the person I am today.

One of the characteristics of humans that sets us apart from our animal friends is our ability to self-evaluate, to try to find meaning in our lives, and the innate desire to make the rest of our lives better, “improved” with each passing year (e.g., the annual New Year’s Resolution lists). Sometimes I worry that I evaluate myself way too much - but then, that very observation is a self-evaluation! Ha ha! I don’t need to hold a press conference to get peppered with questions. I ask the questions myself to myself - and believe me, I don’t spare any feelings. I ask the tough questions, the deep questions, and it can be a grueling process. But I feel somehow I come through the process more aware, less judgmental of others, and more excited about the rest of my life. My bubble bottle may be more empty than full, but I’m thrilled to be able to keep puffing away! And who knows - in a few years, those last bubbles may be the most spectacular of all!

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