adjective : steady dispassionate calmness and self-control
verb : to moderate the heat, excitement, or force of : calm
noun : poise, composure
adverb : in a casual and nonchalant manner
noun : a state of tranquillity
intransitive verb : to become calm —usually used with down
transitive verb : to make calm —often used with down
adjective : free from agitation, excitement, or disturbance
adjective : calmness and composure through concentrated effort
There are three moments in time in which I learned the importance of maintaining the three C’s well. The first was in an elementary school spelling bee. The second was watching two high school basketball games. And the third was while living in Japan.
Of course there is more to each word’s definition but for clarity’s sake I have isolated my definitions to avoid confusion.
In elementary school I was a competitive National Spelling Bee speller. I think I excelled at spelling because I was an avid reader. I was the kid reading books during class, sort of under the desk, so I could easily shove the book quickly into its confines if called upon to give an answer. And not lose my page. My mother wasn’t able to punish me by sending me to my room because I was quite happy to go there and be entertained by any number of fantasy adventures sitting on my bookshelf. As a result punishments were taking my books away.
And countless hours were spent in the Lebanon Public Library reading, doing homework with friends and typing on the typewriters they had there for public use. I would often check out four to seven books at a time. I was a certified bookworm. And maybe still am. I do work at a bookstore after all.
The Bee that did me in. Or rather, the Bee that I did myself in…that memory has always stayed firmly in my mind. I was competing for third place, sitting in fourth. And when I stood in front of my seat trembling in anticipation in my Sunday best. I felt enormously relieved that I hadn’t had to spell ‘nightingale’ and looked, but tried not to see, all the faces in the audience staring at me. Then a sudden rush of excitement overwhelmed my ability upon being given my word.
I knew how to spell it. And rejoiced.
And suddenly my vision swam with the crowd and my throat felt too dry. I forced open my mouth and began,
“G…” And upon uttering that letter ‘G’ my face flushed and a wave of heat enveloped me from my toes to the top of my head. My hair felt as though it was standing on end.
It was over.
Not only had I misspelled, because letters once spoken cannot be rescinded, I had spelled the word ‘fag’ in front of my mother and my grandmother and all these people. I wished I could pass out, swoon, as those ladies do in some of the books I read. I was mortified. And angry at myself for being so stupid. I knew how to spell ‘fatigue’ but I had allowed myself to defeat myself. I felt my body had somehow turned traitor and betrayed me.
I got over it.
And my love of the Bee carried over into Junior High School. But I never came as close to the top three as I did that day.
I was a Lebanon Raiders varsity cheerleader in high school and basketball season was my favorite of the two seasons. That’s not to say that football season didn’t have its charm but you were indoors in the gym, the half-time show dance routine gave us a captive audience, and our varsity basketball team in ’93/’94 and ’94/’95 was fantastically talented. I was in the last two years of my high school career and our team went to the New Hampshire Class I State Championships twice.
And we lost ‘it’ both times.
What is the ‘it’ we lost?
Well, I recognized ‘it’ from that Bee. Call ‘it’ ‘poise’, ‘calm’, ‘cool’. Call it what you will. But ‘it’ spun wildly out of control. The circumstances and how it all played out both years were eerily identical in almost every way.
The clock was winding down. We were in the last 30 seconds of the game. We’re winning by one. Our guys gained possession of the ball, broke away and crossed the half court line.
Faces flushed. Elated. Celebrating victory.
And while they were looking back over their shoulders with huge smiles on their faces, something unexpected happened. Our guys dropped their guard and the opposing teams stole the ball.
Most of our teammates didn’t realize what had happened.
The time left on the clock slowed to a snail’s pace…yet, the movement of the opposition alternately seemed to have sped up.
The crowd rose out of their seats and roared as the “losing” team swiftly regrouped and re-organized themselves. Realization and dismay swept over our team. Those bright eyes, that .02 seconds ago, had flashed joy darkened to panic and upturned lips transformed into wide O’s of despair.
The other team sank a sweet three.
In our faces.
The swoosh of the ball through the hoop sounded a deafening roar.
Our guys scrambled desperately to turn it back on. But that last basket had sounded our death knell. We flailed about unable to comprehend what had just happened.
We couldn’t recover.
Shock and shame reddened those once proud faces.
And having prematurely reveled in that yet-to-be determined glory, then a sudden death as recompense for their presumption, our guys all broke down in tears. And I with them…as I watched the juxtaposition of those tears that streamed down the other team’s faces as they grasped each other close in celebratory bliss. And we grasped each other and mourned our loss.
Seemed history had to be repeated to ensure the lesson was taught well.
I was residing in southern Japan, in the suburbs of Osaka Prefecture, in Kishiwada City. The year was 2002 and I had taken up running.
I was a far cry from being overweight but by Japanese standards I was not at my ideal. I weighed around 145-lbs which on my 5’7.25″ frame was okay. Not good. Not bad. But according to a Japanese health assessment, which they provide when you sign up for a gym membership, put me at 30% excess body weight.
I quit the gym.
And decided to plot out a nice little loop in my neighborhood. Each day at 4pm I would go out for a 20-minute run to get exercise. I sometimes ran with headphones and music but soon gave that practice up. The earphones in my ears made me feel discombobulated and disconnected from the world. Instead I would listen to nature, the cicadas and birds, and let my thoughts wander.
One beautiful day, I was out and about two-thirds through my route on a narrow street. My eyes wandered over the high walls surrounding each house I pass. The sound of my sneakers slapping the pavement soothed and satisfied. Air flowed in and out of me with a relaxed and measured regularity. I jogged along blissfully in that moment.
I would soon be approaching one of my favorite spots along my route, a small round-about with a beautiful European-styled fountain at its enter. The thought warmed me. Although I kept it light in my mind to pace myself physically and mentally. The low sound of a vehicle engine behind me provided a welcome distraction.
The road was very narrow and dropped on either side into foot deep gutters. It was always a little tricky navigating these roads especially when they allow traffic to move in both directions like this one. Many roads in my neighborhood were one ways, including this one past that lovely little fountain. There was plenty of space for it to move around me, even for a commercial trailer truck, which is what it sounded like.
I slowed down a little to let it pass.
I heard it slow as well. A small bubble popped in my mind.
I jogged along.
Then I deliberately brought my pace back up.
I heard the engine increase.
And I realized, the vehicle was pacing me.
I was approximately 200-ft from the roundabout.
I jogged along.
I took in deep regulated breaths, kept my body loose and my shoulders relaxed.
I broke into a dead sprint.
I heard the gunning of the engine and the screeching of tires behind me.
I ran. Hard.
The sound of my feet pounding on the pavement bounced off the walls echoing down the street. I saw the fountain in front of me. I ran straight at it then swerved slightly to the right of it one long stride over the low basin, the flowers and the dirt at its base.
I didn’t know where that vehicle was behind me.
I did know the road narrowed to a paved footpath and I felt exultation as I entered it but continued on running. I followed its straight path then reaching the curve bearing right. All the while I listened hearing the vehicle as it screamed around the round-about and headed back up the road. I heard it gunning through the neighborhood bearing left and I felt the first pricklings of fear wash over me. And I knew that it knew this neighborhood.
I leaned into another right and burst through the opening into the parking lot at the end of my dead end road. No one was home. My boyfriend was not back from work yet. My mind panicked and instead of running straight into my apartment and locking the door I ran past it to a neighbors nearby.
I stood with my hand on their front gate. My heart pounded in my head. Gasped for breath.
And I realized I had boxed myself into a corner.
My friend’s house sat in the corner of an L-shaped section and I stood there and looked to the left thinking about my apartment. I didn’t know if my friend was home.
I looked to the right and a white windowless van cruised into my line of sight. The driver-side window was down and a man, left hand on the steering wheel and leaning slightly forward, looked from his right to left. And our eyes locked.
We recognized each other immediately.
An unspoken conversation…
The van slowed…
My knees shook…
I felt bile rising in my throat.
The front door to the house on the corner near him opened.
A tiny elderly Japanese woman walked out and down the front steps and began fussing with some of the shrubbery in front of the house.
He looked away.
He drove past me out of sight.
Then reappeared, cruised back by and was gone.
That little old woman saved my life.
Later when I told my friend E-chan the story she said, “You are very lucky Nikoru-chan. It’s not one man in that van. It’s a group of them and they kidnap women off the streets, rape them in the van while driving to the mountainside, and leave them there. Yes, you were very lucky that day.”
We never know what the universe is going to throw at us, giving us opportunities to learn more about ourselves and the world we live in. And as you can see it may align in unusual ways to emphasize the importance of why one might consider cultivating the three C’s. We may not always be presented with such an extreme lesson as my third example, nor save us from the embarrassment and tears of the first two. You may rest assured, or not, that being mindful and aware of the universe helps turn black swans white, improves the quality of one’s character, and awakens the mind allowing it to evolve beyond.
So here’s my advice to myself, which I try to take every day, “Remain diligent, be vigilant and maintain the three C’s Nichole. Because tiny elderly Japanese women aren’t everywhere. And even if they were, there’s no guarantee they are into outdoor gardening.”