Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Family Matters, by the Skin of Our Teeth: In Praise of Denial

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Family Matters, by the Skin of Our Teeth: In Praise of Denial

Article excerpt

face=+Bold; Family Mattersface=-Bold;

face=+Bold; By the Skin of Our Teethface=+Italic; face=-Italic; face=-Bold; face=+Italic; In praise of denial face=-Italic; By Richard Handler

One blustery evening during a cold Toronto winter, with snowflakes falling and my head tucked deep into my coat, I crossed a busy street and was almost slammed by a streetcar. This is the story of a nonevent, the sort of unreality that rarely makes the news. The world is full of them: near hits and misses. We narrowly avoid disaster all the time, and usually just stuff it all away; relegate it to some remote corner of our minds.

I'd just finished eating dinner with a friend at a Chinese restaurant on Spadina Avenue. We had to cross the road, which has long stretches without traffic lights. My friend and I got halfway across to the thin, raised strip that divides the avenue. I was about to continue across when a streetcar (yes, we still have them) came barreling by. Sure, I usually check over my shoulder when I cross the street, but not this time.

Had the streetcar sped by one second earlier and a couple of feet closer, I'd have walked smack into it, making me the tragic accident victim on the evening news. All sorts of people who never knew me would shake their heads and . . . sigh.

But I pulled back, just in time. Whew! What flashed as the streetcar rattled by wasn't my life, as people often say: it was the many other times I'd almost been killed by cars, or vast, lumbering trucks, or those kamikazes of the city, the local bicycle couriers with their killer mountain bikes.

I suddenly thought back to the day, years ago, when I was hitchhiking in California as a pickup full of drunks raced up the road. Suddenly the pickup veered wildly toward me. I stepped back, narrowly avoiding being hit. The crowd in the truck got a big kick out of my scrambling panic, laughing as they drove off. Once I calmed myself down, I never thought about it much. It was just a tiny, improvised moment of attempted murder. But it all-at-once came back to me in flaming Technicolor that evening outside the Chinese restaurant on Spadina.

I flashed on all those stories I'd heard about people who'd unthinkingly stopped by the side of a road and got out of their cars only to be picked off by some vehicle speeding by at 70 miles an hour. I met a woman once who told me about her brother who'd stopped to check his tire, and then was gone. Just like that. He left a wife, children, things to do. Like a tiny star in an enormous universe, he just . . . expired.

The Spanish architect Antoni Gaud[Cyrillic TE] was killed by a streetcar in Barcelona before his great cathedral was finished. His creation is a marvel: full of spires and nooks and crannies. Millions of tourists see and admire it and are told this story by tour guides. Others were left the job of finishing Gaud[Cyrillic TE]'s soaring ice-cream cone of a building. Had I been killed, somebody else would be found to cut my lawn and take my job in no time.

Of course, it can also happen the other way. Instead of potential victim, you can be the casual killer. Years ago, I was gabbing intensely to a friend while driving and pausing at a stop sign. Just before I absent-mindedly stepped on the gas, my friend yelled, "Watch it! …

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