I’m facing some medical challenges right now. Not unusual for a woman in the last half of her life, of course. At the same time my son is facing difficulties in finding permanent employment. The university he teaches at as an adjunct has a permanent position open and desperately wants to hire him for it. He wants it even more desperately. He loves teaching there and feels he’s making a difference for his students. However, this university is federally controlled, and there’s been a glitch at the federal bureaucracy end. The school administrators are trying to straighten it out, and I tell my son that they will. But it sometimes looks hopeless and bleak to him.
It seems that there are so many times like this in life. You go along aiming at your goals and planning your next moves for quite some time, just humming along like a top. Then, something happens -- maybe illness, loss of a job or an important relationship, financial problems, or natural disaster, whatever. Suddenly, night has fallen. Your old goals, plans, directions may or may not still be valid. You don’t really know, because you can’t really see what the next day will bring. Heck, you can’t see where the next step is or where it will take you.
It’s all too easy, under these circumstances, to just stand paralyzed. And sometimes, that’s what we have to do at the beginning. Usually, these kinds of situations are a sign that we need to go within ourselves somehow. However, we may need to take some kind of immediate action to stave off further disaster even as we try to look within ourselves for some future guidance. Not always the easiest thing to do.
When this kind of night plunges your life into darkness, the first thing to do is to stand still and take inventory of your situation. Are there immediate emergency steps that need to be taken? Has the situation fallen all the way to the bottom yet, and if not, are there things you can do right now that might stop or cushion the drop? For example, if you’ve been laid off, what transition options can you get from your company or local agencies? If you’re in sudden financial difficulties, can you work through a consumer credit counseling agency or on your own to contact creditors and arrange temporarily lowered payments? If your home was flooded or burned, check to see if you will be able to salvage anything of the structure or the contents. Often, these immediate, emergency steps consume us, and we obsess over them. Why not? They keep us focused on doing something and away from looking at that impenetrable dark horizon that our future has become.
Once immediate emergencies have been dealt with, it is important to make some time to mourn the old path from which life has so suddenly knocked us. The path ahead is usually shrouded in night at this point, and the first step toward finding our way is to establish where we came from, what it meant to us, all the good it brought us. It is only natural to mourn such things. As a part of this process, however, we must move on to realistically seek out all the harm our vanished situation caused us, all the opportunities lost, the ways in which it limited us. This gives a more realistic context for our mourning process and begins to close it out.
From this point of realism, we can know truly where we are standing and become aware of the possibility that, although we may never find that exact situation again, we might find something new that provides what the old withheld from us.
One thing I've learned through the years is that even what seems to be an unmitigated disaster usually turns into something good--ultimately. It takes faith in the process, faith in the universe or God or whatever term you use. It's where our whole country sits right now. In the long run, it will lead to something even better than the shortsighted greed in which we've been living. Change is the only constant in life--and as it never stays sunny and bright forever, so too does it never stay dark forever. Soon enough, light once again dawns. We all just have to put one foot in front of the other, tentatively and experimentally, testing the ground we cannot see, but that's the way we'll make it to a brighter future, one step at a time through the dark.
I wrote a poem about this once.
TELLING THE KIDS
We’ve put it off
as long as we can,
trying to memorize this ourselves
before we pass it on—
oral teaching, blurred boundaries
drawn in the dirt with sticks—
to the young woman who looks like me
and the boy already taller than you.
For weeks, they’ve sensed a changing
in the outlines of their world
and closed ears and eyes
to continue with hands clutching our clothes
as when they were toddlers,
early in the journey
when we still knew the land.
You and I have had no time
to map this unexpected territory
that stretches before us
in brand-new blackness.
We all have to find our own
path through this. They can’t
just follow us anymore.
We’re stumbling in opposite directions.
Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)
For now, all I can do is hold out my hand to my son and start walking. I know we’ll make it. One step at a time.