On The Edge
A loved one is missing.
Someone’s integrity is questioned in a soul-shaking way.
A news story triggers memories of abuse and assault.
Passing a beloved co-worker in the hall on our way to somewhere else, I catch her eyes, seeing only fatigued desperation. We both smile weakly and keep going.
These didn’t all happen to me this past week (some are mine, the rest belong to others), but they happened around me and in the vicinity of my love for the people they affected. I mentioned to a senior manager that there was a feeling in the office, a thick presence of the world being unsettled, but no singular incident or source to which we could assign cause or blame. What could we do? Impulsively, I wanted to gather us all in a room large enough to hold us and the dissonance that wrapped ‘round us, and perform some ritual that would give us—each and all—blessed release. It wasn’t to be, of course. We’re all so busy.
To balance on such a ledge emotionally takes its eventual toll. What was hard this past week was the collective impact of not just one or two, but several deeply carved dramas that knew no easy resolution, were all unleashed in the cramped confines of the workplace we shared, and touched the hearts that we regularly give over to someone else’s more urgent need. That’s fine and works well in the moments we do it, but our own untended and unfinished business still raps its ragged bloody knuckles on the door of our own routines, insistent that we pay some attention to the headache strapped around our temples, the grumble of hunger that will most certainly go unfed for yet another hour (that Hershey’s miniature we plucked out of the manager’s candy dish on our way out to the next meeting has no protein to help us think clearly), the bones and muscles that need to just be still for heaven’s sake: just give me five minutes. Ok, I’ll take three, but you’ve got to sit down.
The elusive and hyphenated edict of “self-care” conjures images of birdsong-infused hilltops where good people sit in a lotus position and exhale it all to the blue and cloudless skies above. In the traffic of my after-work commute, I’m content to press “play” on Sting’s “Ten Summoner’s Tales” and let that do the trick until I get home (see any of my previous posts for descriptions of the paradise that rescues me daily). I don’t know what varieties of hilltop paradise are available to the one whose integrity was questioned (I know and love her. It was a deep cut), or the friend whose loved one is still missing (I can’t begin to imagine how they are managing their lives around this unrelenting helplessness); I hope and pray, fiercely, that they have at minimum an entry-level understanding of deep breathing, and allow themselves the luxury of at least five deep inhales followed by five equally deep exhales. It won’t fix what’s wrong, but it may just settle the soul long enough to let in a few sane options for moving forward and past the struggle that holds them fast.
Any time I’ve been on the edge of anything—Niagra Falls, the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the steps on our front porch, a decision that would ripple out and impact several people—I've noticed that I’m more alert, more awake to the “what ifs” that make their home right on that precipice with me. The trick, and it is indeed a trick, is not letting their chorus become louder than my own good sense and intuition. I’ve failed spectacularly at this on more than one occasion, letting my darkest apprehensions take the lead (which I dumbly followed with spectacularly predictable outcomes) and distort my outlook for days or years. I’ve also shut down the “what if” chatter with a single well-executed blow of reason and confidence, and am still riding the wave of that glory, feeling both reckless and masterfully guided. I can live on the thin strand that connects “both” with “and”, and tread water when I need to.
But this past week, that strand was too stretched, the dramas too complex and close together, and I absorbed it all without any time to set each one down, look at it closely, and consider myriad options to give my help. The pain, the anxiety, the unsettled-ness just kept coming, a river of tears and fears into which I stepped and was carried away. There were still meetings to attend, drafts to review and revise, copies to be made, and phone calls to return. I did my best, and will repair whatever wasn’t done to standard. But…I wanted to help. And couldn’t.
It’s the end of a new week now, and there’s been some breathing room. Time for well-chosen words and simple loving gestures of presence. A loved one is still missing, someone was still assaulted and is now unpacking the next layer of that healing process. I’m alert, on the edge of things, as life moves forward.
Sometimes, that’s all I can do. I hope it is enough.