In the seventh grade, we were taught Modern Math. My teacher, a man with a thick Southern accent whose face looked like one of those dried apple dolls, thought my grasp of the theoretical stuff was good but my basic arithmetic skills were lacking a bit, so he didn’t want to promote me to Algebra. My father marched down to the school and straightened him out. He never revealed the content of their discussion, but I secretly hoped some brass knuckles were involved.
I excelled in Algebra. Almost pure theory. Geometry set me back a bit, because we were dealing with three-dimensional space. Trig, in the tenth grade, was monstrous. I forget what we had in the eleventh grade, but it was full of polynomials and advanced trig and things that made my brain freeze up.
One thing I took with me along the way, though, was the concept of vectors, and even now I’m not sure I’ve got it quite right.* When you define three-dimensional space graphically, you use a Cartesian coordinate system, with x, y, and z axes.
It’s days like this when I think I’m actually not geeky enough, or I’d be able to explain this better. Please try not to laugh into your corn flakes. You’ll get milk up your nose.
A vector is something that is going in a particular direction (sometimes with a particular mass and/or velocity), and it can be mapped on your 3-D diagram. It is represented by an arrow. But there are usually a number of Somethings, and they’re usually going in different directions at different rates of speed, tugging with different strengths. Now, if all these vectors were connected, were part of a single larger unit, you could calculate where in space and time that unit would go. The stronger vectors might pull one way, the faster ones might pull another, the longer might pull a third. And you’d end up someplace in between. The math would let you calculate where in space and time you’d end up, once all that pushing and pulling were taken into account.
OK, that’s all I know about the technicalia of it. The way I have internalized it is that my life is made up of different needs and desires and forces that pull or push me in different directions simultaneously. My head wants to go three or four different ways, my heart a few others, my spirit others yet, and then there are some parts of me that seem bent on sabotaging all the others. So instead of going in any one direction with any force, I end up this gray lump that is pushed Somewhere, but it’s not clear where I am or where I am going.
Sounds like that dream from the other day, doesn’t it?
I’ve been troubled by the various vectors in my life for some time. Now that I’m taking care of Mom, I’m seeing how her vectors are sabotaging her, too. She has advanced COPD and she’s pretty much bed-bound. She wants to be comfortable, which means she doesn’t want to sit up or do anything taxing, but that means that her cardiovascular system is shutting down, which means her breathing is getting worse, which makes her much more uncomfortable. She would be more comfortable if she could breathe better, she would be happier if she could be more active, but the only way to get there is to stress her body a little at a time and get stronger and rebuild her lung capacity, and she’d rather not, thank you.
Sometimes she can see these contradictions clearly. Sometimes she can’t. Sometimes I’ll say something and she’ll have no recollection of it ever having been mentioned before, and sometimes she’ll be angry that I’m repeating myself for the fiftieth time. It’s not senile dementia or Alzheimer’s, but rather the lack of enough oxygen and probably blood flow in the brain to form new memories that stick, or to retrieve old ones on a regular basis. Whatever the cause, it’s deucedly difficult to deal with, and periodically I feel I’m hanging by my fingernails.
But watching her struggle with her vectors throws my own into such sharp relief that I can’t just ignore them. Part of me—OK, here are more vectors for you—wants to accept them as the multifaceted lump of God that is me, and embrace all the contradictions. Another part of me, though, feels I’m not making progress in my health, in getting my life in order, in preparing for a future without Mom, without someone to take care of, without that constant source of comfort and support. That part of me wonders if some of these little sabotaging vectors can be reversed, redirected, healed, to bring the whole Thing a little closer to my goal, my calling, my heart’s desire, my bliss.
Now, if I only had an inkling what that might be. . . .