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Grab Your Lifeline
As 2014 begins, I have a single word, and a particular song lyric stuck on replay in my head. The word? Lifeline. The music? Do you remember the 1984 instant hit in the movie theaters, Ghostbusters? The only lyrics I remember from the theme song by the same name are: “Who ya gonna call?” and of course the answer was “Ghostbusters!”
In troubling times, a lifeline is as necessary as oxygen. So, who ya gonna call? Most of us have a friend, relative, mental health or pastoral counselor we could call. But do we? And what happens if that person we want to call is unavailable? Perhaps they live in a different time zone, are too busy at work, or they have their own difficulties to address, or maybe they are no longer alive. Then what?
The Ghostbuster lyric, “Who ya gonna call” suggests there is a person who can rescue you. If you are in search of a lifeline, I offer an alternative lyric, “What ya gonna do?” I do not mean to belittle the immense contribution a human helper can make when we need a life preserver tossed out to us if we are drowning. My practical tendencies are revealed here. Why not assemble a lifeline strategy that can include a reach-out to humans or animals but does not stop there? What if you are stranded, be it literally or emotionally, without ready access to technology? What ya gonna do?
I ask this question because I noticed something in the TV coverage of people’s preparation for the polar vortex in the Midwest at their nearby grocery stores. Stocking up for numerous days of sub-zero temperatures, their baskets had a lot of canned goods and boxed foods with a long shelf life. Perishables were minimized. Humans and animals are perishable, too. We need one another and yet we never know when someone or a pet who serves as a lifeline for us will be gone. Other kinds of lifelines are like a good old can of hearty soup that you can pull down from the shelf at any time. The following questions may spur awareness of lifelines that will not perish:
As a kid, what activities did you return to, again and again, when playmates, siblings or caregivers were unavailable? (For example, reading, playing with toys, making or listening to music, creative endeavors, sports or other physical activities, make-believe scenarios, naps, solitaire games, etc.)
Throughout your life, what places do you travel to frequently, be it in your head, or in actuality? (For example, a favorite vacation spot, a particular room in your home, a location with great natural beauty, a church pew, a recreational center, etc.)
What objects give you solace or provide some kind of anchor? (For example, a family heirloom, favorite rock or shell, candle, an active birdfeeder, an inspirational book that provides hope, a stuffed animal, etc.)
What communities are you a part of where the faces may “perish” but the lifeline comes from the gathering of like-minded people? (12-step fellowships, faith communities, book groups, dance-lovers, artists, writers, sports fans, etc.)
Putting it Together
Take your answers to the four questions offered above to construct a lifeline strategy that responds to “What ya gonna do?” One person might realize it is very important to get to the mountains. Another may realize they need to light a candle and read a book of poems by Emily Dickinson. Activities chosen as a child may morph into a more adult version. The solitaire card game that soothed or comforted a child might now be a Sudoku or crossword puzzle. A kid who had an imaginary friend might become an adult who creates fictional characters to feel better! I know someone who connects with her community by listening to sports talk radio shows. The possibilities are numerous; by having lifeline options that do not perish, you are less likely to flounder if human helpers are unavailable to you.
Double Your Lifeline
The possibilities might multiply if you ask both questions, “Who ya gonna call,” and “What ya gonna do.” If there is someone (a personal Ghostbuster, of course!) who would join you in doing an activity you have identified as a lifeline, that might make it even more of a lifesaver for you. However, this may be where you have to allow for individual differences. Introverts may prefer to pursue the solo lifelines; in fact, silence might be a lifeline in and of itself! Extraverts may prefer to share their strategies with another person. There is no right answer, here, but it is important to respect how differently people may respond in the face of difficult challenges. If we expand our lifeline strategy to include what we can do, not just who we could call, I believe we can maximize the likelihood of receiving comfort, solace and hope as we find our way back to a more joyful equilibrium.
Your January 2014 Prompts for Joy
Click here to hear a piece of music that has been a lifeline for me since I was a young child. The bonus is that Yo-Yo Ma’s cello is accompanied by a beautiful, moving interpretation.
(Your timing was so perfect, Margot Hand; thanks for the lifeline.)
Click here to see how a harmonica is someone’s lifeline. (Thanks much, Claudette Bergman!)
Joy-Gram for January 2014
Identify one piece of music that improves your frame of mind. You may not even need to listen to it; just thinking of it could be enough!
What you cannot see in the picture above is an old-fashioned hi-fi record player up against the wall to my right. I spent many hours on that living room floor in El Paso, Texas, coloring, and listening to records such as Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals or Burl Ives Sings or Andre Previn’s A Touch of Elegance. To this day, music and creative activity are two of my most reliable lifesavers. Photograph by Geoffrey Clark, circa 1959.
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·