Unimagined Possibilities

This new year will bring many changes to my life, though I have no idea what those changes will be. I will be leaving my father’s house, of course, but other than that, the future is blank. (Not bleak, just blank.)

The only thing I know is that I don’t want to settle down somewhere and stagnate. I realize that settling down does not necessarily bring stagnation, but in my case, I am afraid that entropy would win. (If you’re not familiar with entropy, my understanding is that entropy is the quantity of energy in a closed system that becomes disordered and unavailable to effect changes in the system, and so the system gradually degrades into chaos, or even worse, inertia.)

The fireworksreduction to inertia is not inevitable. Some of the disordered energy can be allowed to escape, which reduces the amount of entropy, and new energy can be introduced. The problem is that when one lives alone, it takes a lot of energy to introduce new energy to the system. It’s so much easier just to go with the flow, and if you have no one to disrupt the flow as you do when you are living with someone, the flow is toward a decrease in available energy. At least for me and other introverts. Extroverts by their nature increase the energy in a system. It’s what makes them extroverts. (The strange irony here seems to be that although introverts prefer to be alone, they need a shared life much more than extroverts.)

At the beginning of a settled life, I would do things, of course, but as time passed, I would become entrenched in my habits, would get tired of the same sights, the same errands, the same . . . everything. And my world would shrink and continue shrinking until I became the crazy cat lady sans cats.

Such a shrinking is natural. Bruce Chatwin understood our heritage as nomads and explained the necessity for keeping on the move, especially by foot. Chatwin wrote:

Some American brain specialists took encephalogram readings of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self disgust and violent reactions.

Chatwin goes on to say: We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in “the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way”. For life is a journey through wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it was biologically true. None of our revolutionary heroes is worth a thing until he has been on a good walk. Che Guevara spoke of the “nomadic phase” of the Cuban Revolution. Look what the Long March did for Mao Tse Tung, or Exodus for Moses.

I do not know if I have the physical capacity for walking long distances carrying a heavy pack. (Hmm. Maybe I could hire a Sherpa. Are there Sherpas for hire here in the USA?) I have no interest in being a revolutionary hero or a spiritual leader, but I do want, need . . . more. More than stagnation. More than simply enduring the coming years. More than any life I can imagine.

If in fact, we do live in the closed system of our lives, perhaps it is possible to poke holes in that system to let in more light. Perhaps it is possible to gently push back the boundaries of that system to allow for greater breadth or let new experiences create greater depth.

Perhaps it is possible to . . .

The thought of how that italicized sentence might end fuels my new year.

Wishing you a year of yet unimagined possibilities.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Gathering Forces

My sister is here helping take care of my 97-year-old father who seems to be declining. (I say “seems to be” because so far, every time I thought the end was nearing, he managed to find his way back to life.) A bit of a mystic, she claims benevolent spirits are gathering, though they aren’t telling her what they are doing or hope to accomplish.

It’s entirely possible that benevolent energy is in the air. Normally I spend quiet weekends running errands, walking, doing housework, but this weekend, I’ve been invited to four different social events. I feel like the belle of the ball, especially since my sister agreed — Cinderella-like — to look after our father while I am out gallivanting.

windThe forces of entropy also seem to be gathering. A window broke. That my brother has been banging on it for most of a year seems to escape him, and he can’t understand why it disintegrated. “I don’t know how that happened,” he told me. “I’ve been banging on it for a year, and it never broke before.” Decorative masonry is falling off the entryway supports. The two air conditioners broke down, each with a different problem. And now the hot water is gone.

I’m doing what I can to make the benevolent spirits feel welcome and at the same time staving off the destructive powers that are swirling around, though to be honest, I don’t really believe anything out of the ordinary is happening. I’ve made good friends, and the outings we have planned simply landed on the same weekend, and things do break down. (So do people break down, though I am holding up well considering how little sleep I got last night.)

I am worried about the immediate future, though. My father asked the urologist to take out the catheter, and now he gets up frequently to go to the bathroom. He is very frail, and we are afraid of his falling, but we can’t be with him every minute. Besides, if we were to get up every time he did, we would be worn out after just a couple of nights and would be no good to anyone. (Dealing with an aging parent, especially the authoritarian sort, is always difficult because to them, we are eternally the minions, and not very bright ones at that.)

Perhaps those benevolent spirits are here to give us all strength. Perhaps the forces of entropy will win in the end as they always do, and we will wind down like those old-fashioned mechanical toys. Or maybe I’m simply feeling the effects of sleeplessness.

Only the coming days will tell.


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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Life, Grief, and Entropy

For just a moment yesterday, while I was walking in the desert, all seemed clear to me. Well, all as related to my grief that is. I could see that things happened the way they needed to. My life mate/soul mate and I could not continue the life we’d been living. We were trapped in an untenable situation, not just because of his health and our finances, but because the place we were living was stifling us. There was nowhere to walk except a 600-yard-long road, nothing to do we hadn’t already done a hundred times, nothing to see that we hadn’t seen a thousand times, but we couldn’t leave. He was too sick to survive a move. Besides, he was comfortable where he was.

Those years of entrapment seemed to go on forever, the only changes being a continual worsening of his health, a continual increasing of his pain, and a continual deadening of my senses.

We were living a classic example of entropy. Entropy is a measure of the amount of energy that is unavailable to do work, and it tends to increase in closed systems. In other words, in a closed system, things break down and stop working. Because of his health, we could not do anything to stop the entropy of our lives. We could only endure.

And then one day, he was set free from his pain-wracked body and cancer-ridden brain. And I was set free from the horror of entropy.

It seemed to me, yesterday, that our lives worked out as they should have. That in a terrible way, we both got what we needed.

I felt at peace most of the day, but the feeling didn’t hold. Last night, the thought “But he’s dead!” hit me. And so sorrow descended once more.

I can see, though, that such moments of clarity will increase until I can finally accept that yes, he is dead, but so what? Someday, I will be dead, too. Meantime, I live to battle entropy another day.