Posted on July 11, 2012 by Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. aka CaptCliff
I believe one of the first books I read as a small boy was Robinson Crusoe. It was about a guy who was shipwrecked on an island for many years and went half mad in his isolation and attempt to survive alone. Sort of like Tom Hanks in Cast Away but without Wilson or the Fed Ex boxes. I dont really know what the appeal of the book was for me so long ago and at such a young age (maybe 8 or 9 or 10 years old). Soon after, I developed the somewhat related interest in Pirates which has remained with me until this very day. I’m sure Walt Disney movies like Swiss Family Robinson had something to do with it too. Anyway, in Robinson Crusoe there is a distinct sense of a person going through a “crucible” of self-reflection and growth. He didn’t just survive, he matured and changed as a person. The isolation and loneliness forced him to rethink his prior life, earlier beliefs, and core values. I suppose that the time of life I am in now, what I politely call “semi-retirement” is somewhat similar. Since no longer having my work days cram packed with neurotic clients needing me to listen to their problems and pontificate back to them from my “high horse” of knowledge and advanced education, I’ve chosen to look into the psychological mirror more often then ever before. I have the time to think about what I did right and what I did miserably wrong up until now. Some of the things I realize about myself have been shocking and hard to swallow. Insight and self-awareness, while necessary for growth, can also carry a certain amount of regret and remorse as well.
While privileged in many many ways, my life has not gone easy and my trajectory of “success”, as defined by societal standards, has not been all upward and linear. At a deeper level there has always been an ongoing “push-pull” within me about God, faith, and spiritual purpose. One part of me is atheistic, rational, a secular humanist (dont ask me to define what that is, I’m not really sure) and another part notices unmistakable “coincidences” and moments that seemed purely designed for my recognition and/or personal realization. Things that seem random also seem like humongous symbols or metaphors pointing toward needed growth. I almost used the word “enlightenment” but that would be too grandiose, even for me the self-confessed narcissist. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not deluded enough to believe I am anywhere near to my big Siddhartha moment. If anything there is a bittersweet Robinson Crusoe feeling of silent sadness but simultaneous beauty. Like him I can hear the beach and the surf sounding with its ever present ebb and flow. I can smell the driftwood of his small campfire and the saltiness in the air as he waits and watches and experiences the “wonder” of it all. He wants to be rescued but, at the same time, he knows that you cant go back to what “was”. The same thing happened to Tom Hanks when he was eventually rescued in Cast Away. The world had changed, people had gone on with their lives. We are all “universes” unto ourselves and more often then not, we whirl around our own self-centered Suns and self-concepts, no matter how many churches, synagogues, civic organizations and fraternities we belong to. I was never a big “joiner”. I dreamed sometimes of having great authority and garnering others respect and allegiance, but I also would very likely be the first person in the group or “platoon” to think about other alternatives to blind loyalty, taking big risks, ie., “What the fuck am I doing here in Iraq?? What is the purpose and cost/benefit of throwing myself on that live grenade Perhaps I’ll let someone else do that?” Maybe all of the above is what makes up the difference between intelligence and “wisdom”. Or maybe I’m just a chickenshit at heart.
An example of these seemingly random occurrences and personal symbols in life? Last night was a hellish rainstorm. It poured and poured like a biblical flood. It even hailed and threatened to snap the trees with gusts of wind blowing against my house, the still unfinished, jam packed, too-often renovated Ark in the comfy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. I lost electrical power, cable tv, and of course my beloved internet connection. I had just yesterday blogged about how utterly dependent we all are on this digital-electronic connection that makes us all even crazier people than when we started( BC= Before Computers). Of course at first it was “cool” that I lost power, kind of like being a kid in a snowstorm in Chicago, around 1967. Within a couple hours however I was already worrying about not only my Popsicles in the freezer and my home-made chicken salad in the refrigerator, but to be honest….what the hell was I going to DO with myself all night??
When the storm cleared (at first) it was twilight. I kept hearing a distinctive bird call sound from my backyard. Not a regular tweet tweet bird but a “hoo-hoo-hoo” sound, kind of like a stereotype owl from Winnie the Pooh or maybe a National Geographic special. I walked out to my back deck…..wait, I “peered nervously” off my back deck and saw the largest most beautiful OWL sitting in a tree staring right at me. Honestly I was fascinated and slightly terrified. He/she looked at me, did another “hoo-hoo or two and then flew right over my house to the other side. It was MASSIVE with its wings extended and it’s body arched in flight. If I hadn’t seen it and heard it “hoo” me, I would have mistaken it for a bald eagle or a California condor. Anyway, by this time I’m totally entranced in my wimpy over-civilized, under nurtured by Nature way, and followed the bird to the other side of the house that luckily also has a deck I could creep out onto…. and therefore escape (scamper away like a little girl) from, if necessary. Normally, in lesser situations I am armed with a large can of Raid or a single flip flop raised ominously above my head in what modern humans do to signal their ability to defend themselves against other large predators, like a spider. Obviously this bird of prey and gorgeous symbol of (fill in the blank) was not going to give two shits about me or my flimsy flip flops. I watched as ANOTHER giant Owl flew over and joined his/her partner. They sat there together like a pair of well trained actors or Ewoks in the forest scene from Star Wars, but actually more reminiscent of the large exotic animals from Evan Almighty. I apologize for the lame movie references but i dont know how else to describe the dramatic impact and surreal visual effect of this particular experience. After a final “hoo-hoo” they BOTH took off together and flew DIRECTLY in front of me and disappeared. I shit you not. I exaggerate nothing. It was magical, beautiful and I dont expect anybody to really believe me. It took another two hours for my electrical power to come back on and if it wasn’t for my big flashlight from Home Depot and my book, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I might have gone into chemical withdrawal from not being able to surf the internet for needless information and something to do with my itchy twitchy fingers. Now I have to figure out what I want to do with this unusual near magical experience, whether you believe me or not (or more apropos to Robinson Crusoe and his well-worn diary circa 1704, maybe the first official blog on record) I have to decide what it all means even if you never ever read this. Either way, the challenge is to listen to the Wise Owl, both out there and in here (pointing to my heart).