— Elwood, The Blues Brothers
“Life seemed to be going along fine and then, splat,” was how H phrased it. We were talking about how a moment occurs when life suddenly changes. S-P-L-A-T. It’s the fly breezing along in the wind when suddenly — it becomes little more than road kill on a car’s window shield. Its ride is over. There is no way to reclaim its former life. It no longer looks like it once did. Like it or not, realize it or not, in a seeming moment, transformation occurs.
In H’s case, it was her multi-decades marriage to a seeming pillar of the community that collapsed under the dual strains of alcoholism and affairs. No matter how much she might have anticipated the end, seen the signs, the “splat” moment felt like a surprise. The big house was sold. She moved to the city. Took a job, then another. The old life becomes a distant memory.
S-P-L-A-T. Until the conversation with H, I hadn’t thought of these situations under the auspices of “splat” but it certainly made all the sense in the world. If you live long enough, the “splats” simply can’t be avoided, which isn’t to say they don’t occur when you are young, as it did when I was just two years old and climbed up the stove that would change my life.
As far as I know, there is not an instruction manual to guide you through a splat. As a child with a life-threatening injury, I think my coping mechanism was to fight. Fight, in the sense of pushing hard to regain my physical ability not only to walk to but swim, do gymnastics, play tennis and the like. Fight, in the sense of pushing myself to achieve socially and academically. Today, when I think of my “splat” situations, my approach is very different — more surrender than anything else. Pema Chodron, the beloved Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother says it this way, “Don’t run away from your fear. Lean in to it.” Our natural tendency is to fight, flee or move away from what is uncomfortable just as I did as a child.
From talking with H, it seems she did what Pema suggests in per post-splat life and that is to open her heart and experience what it is to be genuine. What it is to be human, what it is to experience life truthfully in all its pain, with all its beauty. Even when you still don’t believe life will get better.
And then there is another thought that seems to go hand-in-hand with her new-age advice:
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
As today drew to a close not only for the work day but for the year, H and I were the last to leave the office. “Here’s to good things in 2015,” I said. “And to a no-splat year.” She who coined “splat” nodded in agreement.
Good luck to us all in the New Year. May we not be squeamish about taking a good look at ourselves. Let’s not let life harden us. Let’s try to always see the tenderness, beauty and grace in being alive, together.
Tell me about your S-P-L-A-T moments.