Life in the Balance
One of my most vivid childhood memories is of being taken by my parents to the circus. The roar of the lions, the lumbering dance of the elephants, the antics of the clowns: all these brought great excitement and joy to the kids of all ages.
Then, with a fanfare, our attention was drawn to the high wire, stretched high above the sawdust ring. The drama was always heightened by a drum roll, and we all watched anxiously to see if the tight rope walker would make it across the wire. Inevitably, the crowd would gasp as, about half way across, the artiste seemed to hesitate, sway and almost fall. The long pole they carried would swing furiously up and down, as the performer fought to get back to equilibrium. I hated those moments. I always felt a strange sense of relief when that act was over.
Sometimes life can throw us off balance. A crisis, a loss, a change, big or small, and suddenly we find ourselves struggling to get back to equilibrium. Life is out of kilter, and we may experience a sense of shakiness and instability, wondering if we will ever get back on track.
We all need to find our “centre of gravity” in life. I have often wondered why, in times of trouble, or confronted by danger or challenge, many people’s first instinct is to pray to God. The Almighty may not usually play a significant role in that person’s life, but when crisis comes, they turn to God for help. Why should that be? I suspect it is an attempt to get back to our centre. When life seems off balance, we retreat to the place where we find safety, security and comfort. Sometimes, in grief, the person who has died has been the centre of another’s life. In such situations, the person may regularly visit the cemetery, and even talk to their loved one, in an attempt to stay connected to their centre. Yet, with that focal point missing, the grieving process becomes an attempt to find and establish a new centre point. This is an extraordinarily difficult task.
WHAT IS AT THE CENTRE OF LIFE? While there may be different answers, it is ultimately focused on “Who I am”. Like a stone thrown into a mill pond, my identity is the starting point from which the ripples of intimacy, creativity and integrity proceed. Identity is something that is established early on in life. It is often determined by the messages given to us by parents, teachers, peers, and complicating the issue, this can be positive OR negative. While it might be preferable to be otherwise, the reality is our identity is often colored by the attitudes and inputs of others. With these expectations, we often try to express our identity in our relationships, our work, and in the things we do in life that make us feel good about ourselves … or BAD about ourselves, sabotaging myself if that is the “message” that I have chosen to believe about who I am. Throughout life, I believe we try to “reconnect” — with God, with our roots, with our centre, with ourselves — in fact, with whatever gives us any sense of safety, security and being loved.
I never did like high wire acts. That’s because on that first occasion I was taken to the circus, the lady on the high wire fell off. She made it to the middle of the wire, swayed back and forth, and to the horror of the crowd, she fell. Thank goodness there was a safety net. She bounced a couple of times, made her way to the ladder, and was soon making another attempt at the difficult walk, successfully as I remember.
We all need a supportive safety net which not only breaks the fall, but which encourages people to climb back up and try again…sometimes more than once. That’s not easy. But that’s life.
We have often been guilty of seeing people taking a few steps on to the wire and then, assuming they are “OK”, “doing well”, or “being strong”, leaving them to get on with it. The struggle to regain equilibrium often occurs in the MIDDLE of the journey. And that is usually after most people think we should be back on our feet.
Regaining equilibrium is never easy. Sometimes it demands a lot of furious maneuvering back and forth, and even a couple of falls, hopefully into a safety net, to get us back to where our journey can continue.