This I Believe

Eric - Willow Street, Pennsylvania
Entered on August 31, 2007

I believe in out-of-body experiences in punctuated equilibrium. “Punctuated equilibrium”, from evolutionary biology, describes a manner of development in which things remain constant for long periods of time, then advance by sudden significant change.

My first experience was in grad school. In a graduate school community, someone is always coming and someone is always going; individuals moving in, families moving out. On a summer afternoon, a small group of us were helping a friend and his wife empty their apartment into a moving van. We carried boxes, lamps, books and furniture. At one point, several of us were moving something large and long, perhaps a sofa or table. The kind of piece that requires the negotiation of angles in a small apartment. It didn’t fit. The door was low, or the hall was narrow, but it wouldn’t fit. A discussion followed. The term “measurement” was considered. I stood and wondered what adult would help us to resolve our spatial issue. Then I realized, in an unusually heightened awareness of us in our situation, as if watching the scene from outside, that we were the adults. I have no recollection of how we resolved the issue. What I recall is the punctuation of the equilibrium. The realization that we would now take responsibilities and make decisions for which we previously deferred to adults.

Two years later, on Mother’s Day Sunday, I had a similar experience. Our son was seven months old and I held him as he fell asleep. I stood at his crib, in his small room, in our small house, to put him down for a nap. Before I laid him down, I said to myself, “Remember this. It won’t last.” So I did, intentionally. I could feel myself doing it, photographing myself holding him, almost watching myself remember. I can still see the room, the position of the crib, me, and him. I remember the punctuation.

There have been other experiences. Some, I regret, I’ve forgotten. Years later I took my seven-year-old daughter to a movie. The two of us. In the dark theater, some thoughtful adult had placed our popcorn and soda containers to the side, where they wouldn’t spill. My daughter grasped my arm and laid her head against my shoulder, the way she might with an adult. Of course, I was only thirty-seven. The same year, on a warm Saturday evening after the lawn was mowed, I found myself playing catch with my son. He with his glove, I with mine, and a real baseball. He had played organized baseball for the first time that summer and was throwing pretty well. I watched these two toss the ball. Classic. A father and son having a catch. I remember the punctuation.

I believe in these experiences because I’ve experienced them (pardon the redundancy). They have become markers on a journey into adulthood I never really anticipated. We live day after day in the equilibrium. The punctuations make it memorable. Dwell on them when they come.