Kicking the can down the road

By | 2012/12/17

Kicking the can down the road

There’s a term you don’t hear used a lot of the time any more – “kicking the can down the road”. Or rather, I certainly don’t hear it used very much any more. Maybe in other circles it still has greater circulation.

It can refer to one of two separate things – one meaning is that it’s a case of pushing a problem out of the way in the hopes that it’ll be easier to deal with later the other is pushing the problem out of the way in the hopes that someone else will deal with it.

Whenever something awful is reported – war, murder, violent crime, etc., there’s equally two different things you may hear a (not insubstantial) portion of the population say: “I hope {responsible-person} burns in hell” (or some variant thereof), and “{victim} is in a better place now”.

I understand why people can say either of those – as someone who used to be religious a long time ago, at times they still strike a chord with me, though it rings with that oh-so-powerful disharmony of cognitive dissonance.

I wonder sometimes how much of it is heartfelt and how much of it is a programmed reaction – we are, of course, significantly influenced by our upbringing, and that directly affects how we deal with stressful or painfully emotional situations. I think it’s also ironically enough how some people can endorse capital punishment – they’re kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with.

Over the years I’ve lost some people and even pets who have been particularly close to me, but, particularly where the people were concerned, it was always the case that someone close to me had a greater reason to grieve, so I always felt the need to pull back. Not to say I didn’t feel anything – far from it – but I always felt my purpose should have been to hold back and be supportive.

So for years I’ve wondered whether I’d eventually end up in a situation where I were faced with the choice to kick the can down the road. My maternal grandmother is my oldest surviving relative close to me, at 92, and while she’s mostly fit as a fiddle, clearly she’s got less years ahead of her than she has behind her. Even though as I was writing this, it occurred to me that I’d still likely feel the need to pull back – that my mother’s emotions (and that of my aunts) would have the stronger need at the time and would be the focus.

When I was 17, my mother was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. She was, at the height of it, told it was advanced enough that she may be facing less than a year left. Dad wasn’t always good at dealing with it, and so a lot of the time if mum needed to talk her way through things, she’d talk to me. Always planning – what would happen after, who would get what after, who would have to look after who, after. Always, the after. It wasn’t easy at that age hearing my mother talk so earnestly about when she was going to die (and soon).

(Thankfully, she overcame it – there’s a quiet strength in her that can’t be denied, and now, decades later, specialists say her heart has returned to almost a normal size.)

As much as anything that experience probably coached me into the way I deal with those kinds of stressful situations – shunt it aside, someone else needs me to focus more on them than I need to focus on myself.

In a way, I’ve been kicking the can down the road myself.