Last night while walking around the halls of Stanford Hospital where I have cumulatively spent over a month in the last twelve, I started feeling the rush of something new coming at me. Trying not to come across simply as being overwhelmed post-surgery (or just heavily medicated with a variety of controlled substances), I struggled to find a way to communicate what was happening with Amanda, who has been through every moment of this journey with me.
Our exploits over the last six years started simply with, “my stomach doesn’t feel well” and quickly escalated to losing ninety pounds in three months and then eighteen procedures and some permanent, life-altering changes, including moving our family to a whole different state to get better care in the proceeding years. This long, strange trip has left me with no discernable fragment of my previous existence (cellular turnover) aside from memories (some memories are even lost from being so sick), experiences (many of which I’d like to forget) and relationships (some of which I have intentionally moved away from). I have previously written slices of the strange and often difficult chapters of the enchiridion of my experience, but whatever this was, it was new.
In this culminating moment, I grasped for something simple, a metaphor.
Finding yourself in a sudden crisis, in my case a health crisis that came to be diagnosed as Crohn’s, an auto-immune, or more specifically, one of two Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, is like waking up inside a rocket that only moments before launched itself toward space. Once launched — in the first stage of acceleration — there is no going back, no stopping what is happening, you can only hang on and try to stay conscious as millions of pounds of thrust hurl you into the atmospheric unknown above.
Things are incredibly fragile in this stage — the strength of the vehicle needed to withstand the pressure of the upper atmosphere layers, the millions of variables that have to be within acceptible thresholds to avoid catastrophic failure and the scope of the minutiae, which is both unknowable and critical.
Your emotional fragility is irrelevant at this stage. This is happening, and you are a passenger.
Millions of man hours of direct experience and a pedigree of knowledge have been spent calculating how to best guide you through this process — procedures put in place, software written to rotate at the precise moment needed to maintain the proper trajectory and a team of some of the smartest and most well-trained people (hopefully) are all paying attention to those variables and thresholds to get you through this first and very dangerous part of the trip.
You are in Newtonian territory — some unbalanced force has created motion in the equilibrium of your steady state, sending you on a journey. At this point an additional and well caclulated applied force is required to change that motion. Newton’s third law points out, each action has
an equal and opposite reaction, so you have to factor that in as well.
Note: If there are catastrophic failures, they often happen here.
Once you punch through the upper layers of the atmosphere, the next thing that happens is separation from the rocket, leaving you with only the propulsion and systems that have been pre-prepared and packed along with you into a very small, life-supporting capsule. Your entire life and world as you know it has become very small.
Before the capsule begins to travel under its own power, there is a gap where forces are no longer being applied externally and you are floating, or more accurately, traveling under inertia — Newton’s second law — residual motion waiting for another force to act on it.
The space, floating between external forces, is where I suddenly found myself last night.
Stage 1 is complete
The first thing that rushes in to your consciousness (unless you have the rush of consciousness itself) is an exclamation to the heavens of survival (you made it!) and a spike in things like adrenaline, various endorphines and dopamine, giving you a sense of euphoria that feels not all the way stable or safe. I have waited so many years to punch through the atmosphere—and exhaust for what, by then, seemed like an endless amount of fuel in my disease state booster rockets—the separation, weightlessness and euphoria snuck up on me.
The relative calmness of the separation from the rockets only lasts a breath or two before the secondary engine igniters fire and there is sort of a quantum-level experience smacking you in the face of all of your possible futures stemming from that point.
Before the rocket ride you were on some trajectory — there was already some plan for your life, and even though you just woke up strapped to millions of gallons of flammable liquid hurling you into space, there was a persistent fantasy created by your brain that the rocket was headed to the same place you had in mind all along. But that is not how transformation works — it does not take you out for a cup of coffee and gently let you in on the plan — you get a universe-sized Rufi and before you can even let yourself process the hijacking, you are already screaming toward an unknown future.
In the capsule, now under its own power, you are still likely to make assumptions and rationalizations about where you are going, but you weren’t given a flight plan, there are no instructions or really any controls beyond blinking lights and switches that offer the illusion of agency. Just outside what amounts to a tin can is the boundless vaccum of space — anything, is possible. In fact, everything is possible and if you open the hatch, that limitlessness will rush in and suffocate you instantly. You may even feel a bit of that suffocation just looking out the few centimeters of clear acrylic glass between you and the abyss of all possibilities and get a little queasy.
Everything you thought you were, everything you identified with has, to varying degrees, been severed and left behind on a planet far below you. The only reasonable choice available is to assess what tools, technology and knowledge you have at your disposal and begin to try to assimilate them while you are on your way. There is no opportunity to stop and catch your breath. No time out. No figuring things out before acting, you are already in motion and a long way from what was once “home”.
Now is a perfectly good time to panic!
It is totally acceptable to freak out at this point, but you have had an opportunity forced on you that every other human has available to them freely, but only a tiny few engage in — leave everything behind (philosophically everything is already behind, so really it is just your attachment to “everything”), embrace the tools you have with you right now and apply them toward accelerating toward a future you may not know or understand, but is already happening due to your propulsion in that direction.
Life has been simplified down to its essence and your task is to embrace it so that when you arrive (hint: the embracing of is the arriving) you can be of service to the environment and people you will encounter in this, your new life!
You are a pioneer, an adventurer, traveler, voyager, even a hero. This was not a vocation you consciously chose, but a duty that the universe has singled you out for because of your previous abilities and qualifications, to which it now added a unique set of skills and perspective gained through your journey. If you are thinking, “That’s not me, I’m just a regular person”, that is all you’ll ever be, if you want more: Greetings, Starfighter! Grab the controls, the universe needs you.
Joshua, Life Voyager
Also published on my blog Droids You're Looking For