On Monday I had to visit a couple of stores for food and supplies. I was anxious before heading out — not because I was concerned about contracting anything, but because I wasn’t sure what it was going to feel like in public.
I had heard reports that made me afraid I would encounter desperate souls brawling over the last cans of food. In anticipation of the outing, I had let my mind wander into images from every dystopian film I’d ever seen — The Hunger Games, Escape From New York, Mad Max. Hell, I also had images of every Black Friday door-buster I’d ever seen… I know that people can behave in ugly ways when it feels like we’re competing for limited amounts.
What I found at both Trader Joe’s and Target, however, was people being exceedingly kind and respectful toward each other.
We kept a calm distance apart, exchanging smiles of recognition over our carts. When we met heading toward the same aisle, people deferred, “after you.” For sure, it was unsettling to see that some items were completely out. But really the shelves were far from bare; there was plenty of food. At both stores, I had sweet chats with the cashiers, much more personal and involved than usual. I came home encouraged and inspired.
I have to admit that on a normal day when I’ve got multiple errands and a list to get through, I tend to harbor a low-key undercurrent of annoyance in my attitude a lot of the time. People are in my way. People are taking my parking spot. People are being selfish, yacking ceaselessly at the checkout failing to notice or care that behind them there’s a line of people with important places to be!
But on Monday, it seemed like everyone had become much more sensitized to each other. I certainly felt that. I wondered about that man taking his time selecting frozen vegetables; as I waited for him, I considered, “How many kids is he shopping for? I hope he can work from home.” That woman with the sad eyes wearing latex gloves — was she being neurotic, or does she care for someone who is especially vulnerable so she has to take extra precautions? All of us were dealing with some of the same fears and concerns, and each of us also had our own personal worries.
I found that I really liked this hyper-awareness of others. It felt open. I loved how we all seemed to have come to a silent new agreement, both about our need for personal space and also how we were going to be in a communal environment together. We recognized our connection — not just as a fear of contagion, but as our shared humanity. At least that’s what it felt like to me.
I recognized a lot of both/ands in this.
- My heart aches in the separation of social distancing. AND in some ways I’m feeling closer to my fellow humans than ever.
- There is so much we don’t know about what’s going to happen. AND I do know that people (myself included) are being somewhat nicer than usual.
- We’re heading into a crisis for which our society and economy are unprepared. AND our spirits can be lifted, we can be hopeful.
- I’m afraid that I’m both under-reacting and over-reacting at the same time, and that’s damned confusing. AND I can honor these conflicting reactions, my own and others’, as perfectly valid and appropriate and real, and find peace in allowing myself to be contradictory and complex.
Tonight is the Vernal Equinox. A moment of balance in the Earth’s annual back-and-forth tilt.
I’ve been thinking about the ways that I sometimes get caught up in goals that are about achieving and maintaining BALANCE. Work-life balance, heart-mind balance, self-other balance, a balanced checkbook, a balance of powers, a balanced diet… Balance sounds healthy and prosperous and safe. It looks just and proper. I yearn for it.
But I think it’s important to remember that the Equinox truly is just a moment, an instant, a breath. Such balance isn’t supposed to stay.
The same is true in our lives as we struggle and strive to get everything into perfect proportion. Even in those fortunate times when we might feel expertly acrobatic, finally accomplishing some amazing balancing feat — these are but moments; they pass. The world turns and things happen. Sometimes big and upsetting things happen that make us reevaluate all our goals and priorities. What does “balance” even mean in times such as these?
Right now, for most of us, it probably doesn’t mean blissed-out stillness and equanimity. Honestly, I’m fairly uncomfortable in the stillness that I am experiencing; I’m more antsy and hectic than ever. “Balance” definitely doesn’t mean that everything (or anything) is going according to my plan. Neither does it mean harmony between all my conflicting thoughts and emotions.
The balance of which I can conceive right now is less about even-keeled perfection and more about letting things move, letting it all be. Sure, there can be beats here and there when everything feels sort of on track — and I’ll savor those. But while everything is changing day to day, hour to hour, I’m not going to make myself crazy trying to preserve a shifting instant.
The precise time of the Spring Equinox this year is 9:50 pm MST. Hooray for balance! Let’s honor it. But of course we’re not going to stop this spinning planet, in this whirling solar system, in this spiraling galaxy.
So maybe it’s never about maintaining a balance between things — day and night, light and dark, this and that. Perhaps we can think of it as a balance including it all, in it all. Not between, but rather with and among. A balance that isn’t static, isn’t frozen in time, but is ever alive and moving and becoming.
The balance with and among frustration and encouragement is everything that you’re thinking, and all the different things we’re thinking. The balance with and among fear and hope, uncertainty and confidence, is everything that you’re feeling, and all the different things we’re feeling. The balance with and among chaos and order is everything that you’re being and creating, and what we’re all being and creating together.
Thank you for your patience, your strength, and your great resourcefulness. Thank you also for your vulnerability, your care, and your deep humanity. I’ll be recording a talk to share on our website and on Facebook Sunday morning. Patty and I are getting together this afternoon (either via videoconference or maybe we’ll carefully brave an in-person meeting) to prepare some songs with which we can all sing along. Please stay in touch, especially if you need anything at all. We’re going to get through this together, my friends. XO, Drew
© 2020 Drew Groves