Focus, by Way of Shock

Or, “We Just Don’t Learn”

I was reading about Peter’s wrist’s unfortunate encounter with a German shepherd and his comment on how “such dramatic incidents always bring the immediate, the present, to snap into focus” made me think of past accidents that did the same for me.

Peter adds “It demonstrates just how tenuous all our plans really are”. True. But after a while you forget that, no matter how dramatic the event. And it’s definitely the present that comes into focus, not the future. I think that’s the main reason. You *think* you get this momentary power to infer into your future and set your priorities straight, but you’re really only able to do that about your present.

In January 2004 I was in London (I had been there for three days) and I was hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street (no… I was not looking at the wrong side of the road). The impact catapulted me 10 feet away and I dove, face first, into the cold wet dirty asphalt. The result was not pretty. Or comfortable. Not even real in my perception at the time. It definitely didn’t hurt until a while later. My first thought after my uncontrolled body had stopped bouncing was “I’m alive”.

I, amazingly, did not break any bones – which is not a plus – the painful bruises were internal. I was on physical therapy for a few months (to get rid of the pain on my knees and put my jaw back in place) and all the facial bruises faded leaving only a few scars as souvenirs. But the experience of being chauffeured to the emergency room in an ambulance and spending the night in the hospital will always be with me.

That night I laid in the hospital bed for some 12 hours starring at the ceiling and thinking about life. I had never gone through a life-and-death moment like that before (shouldn’t they be called life-OR-death?). I promised myself I’d take better care of my body, mind and soul. I had sudden revelations about what was really important in my life, who were the people that mattered to me, what I loved about my work, what I wanted to achieve, etc. I had a plan!

I felt I *should* have known all those things before the accident, well, I *did* know them, but they didn’t really come out of me until then. Some would call it a religious moment, I think of it as a spiritual slap on the face. I knew I was a big procrastinator before this and procrastinators only work under pressure, but nobody would pressure me for those answers, they only benefit myself, so there was no reason to articulate them. That’s what these moments are for. I almost wish there were more of them to make me more aware, more often – if only they didn’t mean physical and/or mental harm.

My ‘lucidity fever’ must have lasted two months. I didn’t follow through with half of the plan, I changed my priorities again and ultimately slacked off into the comfortable nest of procrastination (by the way it’s socially acceptable to do that if you’re in pain and has suffered an accident – quite the contradition, eh?)

In July 2004, I was in Sao Paulo celebrating an upcoming job opportunity by going out to a club with friends and getting plastered ’till the whee hours of the morning. That was a fine way to commemorate – until we decided to go roller skating. Needless to say drinking and driving – whatever the vehicle – is the best recipie for accidents. So, again, I fell on my face and sprung those lovelly scars open again (with the added bonus of a few broken teeth).

I disappeared for a couple of days to think about the past, present and the future. I reviewed my priorities, re-affirmed my goals, focused on my game. I emmerged feeling like a new person. I had a plan! Again. And so time went by. I moved to another country, got another job, bought two new guitars. And in my new house I built another one of those cozy little nests of procrastination. I learn nothing, do I ?

Focus by way of shock is bull. It’s reactionary, a mere reflection. You do it because you’re scared. It’s not a plan, it’s a band-aid. A band-aid is probably too small, it’s a temporary patch. It makes you feel secure and tricks you into feeling in charge, but it wears off with time. You’re not 100% – you’re hurt, but healing; traumatized but improving, but less aware of the present than you were before the shock.

Focus requires the attention and scrutiny we give to life under those moments of stress, but the result does not come in the blink of an eye. To focus or re-focus, one needs a plan, but a plan is not an insight or a couple of wishes. A plan is concrete, it states its purpose, it has dimension.

But you won’t know your ‘plan’ is just wishful thinking until it fades away (or you suffer another shock!) You may never know how bogus was your plan – that nest of procrastination is immensely confortable. Other times it doesn’t really matter, because your life might take you in a different direction and you may turn into a different person. You’ll be able to craft just the right plan without having life bully you into doing it.