Life As A Matter Of Punctuated Equilibrium

I’m still cleaning out my past — spent a few hours this afternoon going through boxes after dance class and lunch with friends.

It’s amazing that in the presence of another person (in this case my sister), it’s harder to justify keeping things that have lain unused for decades, so I got rid of more than I might have done if I were alone.

In my misspent youth, I managed a fabric store for a national chain, and I still had boxes of fabric left over from that time. Those are the boxes we went through today. Luckily, a friend agreed to take the fabric off my hands, so now even more of my past is gone. It feels good. Things are a responsibility and that responsibility weighs heavily on me. It will be nice to journey into my unknown future feeling so much lighter.

Odd about that future. I’ve been assuming it will be wonderful since I’ve been paying karmic debts or dues or some such with all the epic traumas I’ve dealt with the past four and a half years, yet someone made a comment today that makes me wonder if perhaps I’m being uncharacteristically optimistic.

He said, “There’s a dramatic tension in your journey, Pat. I’m not sure if the universe will eventually smile on you, and I have this nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, but we’re rooting for you to achieve a harmonic convergence. You may have a destiny as our guru and guide. You’re certainly paying a price for the upcoming payoff. Is it a bloody hammer of God or a bouquet?”


Perhaps the courage to deal with traumas makes them possible. Perhaps ever-increasing traumas prepare the way for even greater traumas, and I am in for a “bloody hammer of God” sort of future. It seems impossible there could be more traumas waiting for me, but then, I couldn’t have imagined the soul-deep traumas I’ve had to deal with during the past few years, such as grieving the death of my life mate/soul mate, dealing with my dysfunctional brother, and taking care of my father during his final years. Nor could I have ever imagined my reaction to such traumas — the shocking and breath-stealing agony of my grief, the horrific journey taking my brother back to Colorado and the 1000 miles of tears afterward, the continued frustrations over my father’s struggle to maintain his parental authority while expecting me to baby him.

sunflowerI suppose it’s just as well we can’t envision our futures. It would probably be terrifying to know what was in store for us. Even knowing that blazing joy rather than epic sorrow is waiting would be terrifying because it would be so alien. And even if we weren’t terrified of awesome bliss, there would be the fear of it never happening or if it did occur, that we wouldn’t believe we deserved it.

Besides, the person who has to deal with that future is not the person of today. Life is a matter of punctuated equilibrium. Nothing happens, and then everything happens. We change little by little, and then something big happens, and we change a lot, though sometimes — maybe most times — we don’t feel the changes. But they are there. (I doubt the subjects of evolution feel the changes, either. Species go about their daily business until the equilibrium of their lives and ecosystems are punctuated by change, and then you find alterations in the fossil record showing what seems to be the truth.) It’s that changed person (as well as the changed species) who has deal with what will come.

Whatever happens in the future — a bloody hammer of God or bouquets — I had a good day today. No one can ask for more than that.

Can you tell I’m smiling as I write this?  It really was good day, but then, any day that includes dancing and friends is good.


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.

My Punctuated Life of Equilibrium

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 batsit 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.