I never understood evolution, especially Darwin’s version of how it happens. I mean, a bat is always a bat. Bats beget bats and have been begetting bats for millions of years. So how does a bat become something else? And how did something else become a bat? Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of punctuated equilibrium is the only evolution theory that ever made sense to me since it mirrored what I knew — that bats always beget bats until . . . they don’t.
Punctuated equilibrium says (at least the way I understand it) that everything exists in a state of equilibrium, with very few evolutionary changes except on a local level. (By “local level” I mean within a species. A species of creatures that becomes separated by a river, for example, will undergo minor changes as time goes on, with those individuals most able to adapt to the new environment surviving to procreate. But still, the adapted creature is recognizably the same species as its forebears.) These vast times of stasis are occasionally punctuated with relatively short (on a cosmic scale) periods of genetic changes, and then things settle down into another long, long, long, period of equilibrium.
This is what my life feels like — long, long, long periods where everything is static, and then brief but frenetic periods of change before stasis sets in once more.
During all the years when my life mate/soul mate was dying, our lives seemed stagnant. We did things of course, but there were no major changes, nothing to yank us out of our torpidity. Day after day, year after year, he got sicker and weaker and I became more emotionally anesthetized since I could not bear what was happening to him and I couldn’t do anything to help him get better.
As the years passed, I felt as if it would always be that way — he dying, me struggling to live. And then one day, things changed. He bent down to pick something up, and a horrendous pain shot through him. He bore the pain as long as he could — three unbelievably agonizing weeks — because he knew that any drug strong enough to kill the pain would also destroy him. And it did. When he finally got on morphine, it made him disoriented. Sometimes he didn’t remember me, and sometimes he didn’t remember himself.
I hunkered down for a long siege since the doctor said he had three to six months to live.
And just like that, three weeks later, after one last breath, the long years of stasis were over. I went through a few months of rapid changes, getting rid of his stuff, putting mine in storage, moving in with my father to take care of him.
These past years of grief have masked the truth. That my life is still basically the same. Stagnant. Living with a man (my father this time) who is declining. Struggling to find a way to survive live despite the situation. I’ve agreed to stay to the end, which could be years, and I’m okay with that. (Designated Daughter, don’t you know.)
The end of this stage of equilibrium will be punctuated with another brief but frenetic period of change as I adjust to the new situation of having no one but me to be responsible for. And then . . .
I’m hoping to figure a way out of this punctuated equilibrium of mine, maybe find a way to incorporate small but steady changes to punctuate my future and keep things from becoming one long run-on sentence, to keep me ever-evolving until the inevitable period is put on the end of my life.
Of course, this is easy to say. It’s harder to do. No matter what we plan, life scatters punctuation marks where it will.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.
June 15, 2013 at 3:40 pm
Very interesting use of punctuated equilibrium as a life metaphor, Pat. Thanks for introducing me to the concept–now I’ve got to see if maybe I can find my own manner of punctuating unwanted stasis in my life.
June 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm
I take day trips occasionally, eat lunch out with friends once in a while, but mostly my life feels as if it’s going nowhere. By necessity (and inclination) I lead a quiet life, and I need to figure out how to liven things up now instead of waiting for the big changes. Not sure what, though. I hope you have better luck than I am having coming up with punctuation.
June 18, 2013 at 8:03 am
Pat, you have this way of illuminating aspects of life that just completely resonates with me. Thank you!
June 18, 2013 at 8:54 am
I hope you are doing well, Maline. Maybe finding a bit of unpunctuated equilibrium.