In the last week or so, I feel like I’ve been in a single ongoing conversation, but with multiple people. The topic has been Jobs Lost, and Lives Disrupted. There’s an immediate worry about survival: practically, emotionally, and psychologically. But for some, living daily in The Eye of the Storm, there’s also a strange sense of calmness and clarity. A chance to reflect on the question, “Now what?” Beyond the fear that life-will-never-be-the-same, lies the courageous belief that building something new just might be the right thing to do. A sense of tragedy, but also perfect timing. Time to look at what we’ve been doing, and how we’ve been doing it.
When I first entered college, I was focused on social justice issues. I took classes with the goal of making a difference, righting-wrongs. Even though I lived on my own at age 17, beans and tortillas my only food groups, a career that made tons of money wasn’t my main concern. My deceased mother’s social security and a job as a cashier at a big-box store saw me through each day. How quickly I learned that, if I didn’t raise my expectations for myself, my life would be a tiny loop of dull jobs and struggle. But then I made the first of many left-turns: away from what was true and correct, for me.
When we’re young, mistakes are a ‘given’. The pursuit of freedom, personal identity and a degree of reckless behavior is to be expected. But we’re conditioned, as we age, to begin making decisions based less on our own needs and desires, and more on The Future. Whatever that is. When I was in my 20’s, that word had no relevance for me. And in that void, my grandmother – who I dearly loved and learned never to contradict – decided to intervene. She planted the seeds of worry and apprehension in my mind. Did I know, she would tell me, that by the time she was 24 she had a job as a teacher, was married, and expecting her first child? She didn’t have to continue – I absorbed her message and felt ashamed. Less-than. Wrong-headed.
I soon entered a degree program that my maternal grandmother had chosen for me. I reflect now about all of the people I’ve met who’ve said things like, “I always wanted to be a poet, but my parents insisted, ‘Medicine or Engineering’”; or, “I wanted to travel abroad when I left high school, but my girlfriend gave me an ultimatum about leaving”; or, “I’ve always loved to paint, but my mother killed it for me with stories about ‘starving artists’.” When we think about what we truly and deeply yearn for, connected as we are from the beginning with what we know is true for us, the word ‘But’ creeps in to alter our course.
Many of us – me included – made decisions and choices that were expedient and created less push-back – as we morphed from youth to maturity. In many instances, for me, anyway, those decisions felt vaguely wrong at the time, but Living More Truthfully felt like swimming upstream. Exhausting. Fearful. Uncertain. Also, the messaging about What Life Should Look Like at Age (fill in the blank) controlled my thinking. It was years later that I learned that closing my ears to what others thought was best for me was the only path to lasting happiness. This courage needed time and space, however, to develop. While I was worried about survival, I felt I lacked the luxury of either one.
Recent events have brought into sharp contrast What We Want, and What We Don’t Want. In our world; in our relationships; and in the evaluation of our own sense of value and purpose. The Eye of the Storm is a terrifying place to be, and yet – there’s also a window of time to take stock of priorities; to consider a re-boot; to question what has been, and what needs to be. Those who’ve lost jobs, lost relationships, or lost connection with themselves are finding that this quiet time is the perfect moment to re-assess deeply held beliefs. Conditioned behaviors. Knee-jerk reactions. Fears and blockages that stifle joy. In my cocoon of solitude, I breathe more deeply and dream of the changes I want to make in my own life. I’m grateful for this terrible, beautiful stillness.