Monday, September 22, 2008

A Gust of Wind

Life is shaped by very small things.  I have long been fascinated by the huge impact small choices, small decisions, and small actions have on us.  Sometimes, the difference between this life and a radically different one is a matter of one simple choice.

As I was sitting here writing this I recalled one of the instances in my life where that was very true.  It was the early eighties, while I was a cop.  I responded to a report of a domestic disturbance at a residence inhabited by "frequent flyers".  In any jurisdiction there are always places where a cop constantly goes. You get to know the people who live there, what their challenges are, and what their problems are.

It was a warm summer afternoon and I pulled up in front of the house, got out of my squad car and starting walking up the sidewalk.  The owners of the house came out to meet me and told me XXXXX had been there moments ago, drunk, raising Cain and had taken off out the back door when I arrived.  I thanked them and made a decision.

It was a simple decision.  I could go north around the house.  I could go south around the house. I started to the south and then changed my mind and went to the north.  I changed my mind for a very simple reason.  It was a hot day and there was a gusty wind blowing from the south, kicking up dust, which was getting in my eyes.  A gust of wind changed my direction.

I went around the corner to the north and walked through the yard there. When I reached the next corner that opened into the back yard, I paused for a moment and peeked around the corner.  I could see over the metal trash cans down along the back of the house.

XXXXX was at the south corner of the house, kneeling, peeking around the corner.  He was holding a rifle and waiting.  He was waiting for me to walk around that south corner.  I drew my pistol and covered him and called out for him to freeze, drop the rifle, etc. He cooperated on all counts and ended up in jail for a stretch.  He never killed me and I never killed him, so it all worked out well.

But, in the simple nature of the world, a gust of wind blowing dust in my eyes turned me north instead of south.  That gust of wind turned me so that I walked up behind him instead of in front of him and changed the course of both of our lives in the literal blink of an eye.  He later stole a check, forged it, and set off a cascade of events that ending with him in prison for beating a man with an iron pipe. I have no idea what happened to him, having lost contact many years ago. I hope he eventually got his life together and found some happiness. I kind of doubt it.

That is one of the more dramatic examples of how small decisions set the course of our lives.  I never again walked around a blind corner without looking first - a trait that kept me out of harms way more than once.  To this day I almost subconsciously approach corners and blind spots and either pause a moment to look, or cross the corner poised to move very quickly backwards.

There are other examples of course and most of them are no where near as dramatic and many of them are beneficial things - but, this particular tale vividly demonstrates the power of small decisions - and you may remember that and as you go through your life and hit one of those many small decision points - and take that second or two to recognize the power of them, and so make a better choice.

I am one of those people who always talks to strangers.  I have had some very cool experiences over the years that flowed out of that simple thing. Again, the vast majority of them have been positive and enriching and fulfilling experiences. A few have not turned out well, but not enough to make me change my ways.  I imagine the wrong experience in talking to strangers could turn a person against it in the blink of an eye, so I guess I am thankful I have never had that particular wrong experience.

My point it (as I wander down memory lane) - just be simply conscious of the effect of small things in your life and if you want to change your life focus on those moments, on those small moments, when everything hangs in the balance and the choice you make ripples through the years.  It is…kind of cool.

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