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Median

I had to go to the airport to pick up my son yesterday. I've made that trip at least a hundred times, so I was in my robotic brain-dead mode where my 50+ years of driving and my subconscious muscle memory were taking me from point A to point B in a comfortable stupor. 

To get there I have to thrust myself at 60ish miles per hour down a substantially crowded expressway with few memorable landmarks. A lot of commercial buildings and vacant lots. Cyclone fences in places for no particular reason. Two lanes of striped asphalt in each direction separated by a median broken every so often by openings for turnouts and crossovers. 

This one particular median was approximately 30 feet wide and maybe 70-80 feet long. It had two trees separated by the usual California landscape motif of dried dead grass and bare dirt. It had become a minor collection area for paper cups, someone's sofa pillow, and bits and pieces of human life signs. 

I don't know why this median caught my attention. Boredom? Chance? Random chaos or planned destiny? As I hurtled past this little desolate island completely disinterested in its existence, I watched a squirrel run down the side of one tree, cross non-stop to the other, and climb up into its branches. 

Then it was past. That simple moment in time that seemed so unimportant, yet meant so much. As I drove on I was suddenly back in my body, alert and aware of my surroundings. The lady next to me was on her damn phone yapping away. The guy in front of me wanted over but the truck next to him wasn't letting him in so they were motioning to each other. The light ahead was just turning yellow so I was going to have to sit through the whole fricken cycle of left turns and straight on cross traffic. I lost the comfort of brain-dead driving. 

There was life on that tiny island in the middle of all that asphalt and traffic. How? Was it just one lonely squirrel? Is his whole world two trees and dead grass in a blockade of hurtling vehicles? What if that was his whole world. Being able to see other trees, other squirrels, other life in every direction but never able to reach it. 

My therapist and I had a long debate several months ago. Obviously not about this particular event, but life in general. His belief is that life is a series of choices that we make. My belief is that life is a series of circumstances we find ourselves in. What choice did that squirrel have? Live a borderline miserable life or take a chance and cross through traffic where the odds were every bit 99% sure death. Choice? Not really. 

I think he was bonded to that life he didn’t choose. I think we all are. We find ourselves stuck in a rut of responsibilities and obligations and loyalties that we never bargained for. I look around at my own life and think there was once a time I wanted to be a ballplayer. What happened to that guy. 

I am my own island. It was me who set my barriers and settled for the life I led. I became a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a friend and an old man. I never became a ballplayer. But it doesn't stop me from climbing to the top of my tree and seeing what I missed. 

Tomorrow in the early morning, I will once again back the car out of the driveway and head down the expressway towards that median with two trees. I have a friend I need to drop off a 2-pound bag of unsalted peanuts for. He can't get to the rest of the world, but maybe I can take a piece of it to him.

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