Safety (written 2018)
Sometimes, lately, I feel the heavy tiredness I remember clearly from the years my children were small. It's not just being physically tired. My doctor at that time said, “You're in your 40's, have a chronic illness and are raising two young sons, of course you're tired.” Well, it was nice to have his blessing, so-to-speak, his reassurance that what I was feeling was normal or at least not an aberration. Yet, I don't think it was all physical even then. It wasn't just about not enough sleep.
I had a sheepskin coat when I was a young adult. The kind that has the thick wool turned inside and tanned skin out. Panels and panels draping to mid-calf. It pressed me to the ground and anchored me in winds, both a protection and a burden of weight on my not-exactly-brawny shoulders. The tiredness I felt when I went to the doctor a couple of decades back was like that. I was weighed down with worries. I didn't think I had a choice.
On a trip to West Edmonton Mall when my second child was an infant, I discovered in practical terms what it meant to not be able to physically restrain or focus solely upon a nearly-five-year-old with incredible curiosity. A little one could slip away in the time it took for me to stoop to lift the babe from his stroller.
How could I keep all of us safe?
This is a refrain in a heart-song mothers know well, but it's not just ours. It belongs to everyone who loves: family, friends, country, the world we share.
The problem is not the sentiment...the wish for the safety of what we love. It's putting on that heavy coat. That one that feels like it's all on our shoulders and that enduring safety is a possibility if we just do the right things.
I can keep us all safe if....
I no longer have the material coat, but the metaphorical one, apparently, was still hanging at the back of the closet, since I've unearthed it again. It's dusty and uncomfortable and not only do I not want to wear it, these days I know it's not necessary that I do. But that doesn't stop me from slipping an arm into a familiar sleeve from time to time.
How do I keep everyone safe?
Reading the words of a wise teacher recently, I came to a phrase that spoke to me. Things don't always go the way you want them to, he observed, “But, it's not your fault.” People sometimes say “What did I do to deserve this?” referring both to joyful and tragic turns in their lives. We look for a direct tie between cause and effect, but we don't look beyond the slender, linear thread that runs from our own fingers.
Cause and effect are complicated. Living things, ecosystems, and economies are fragile. The lone thread in my hands, or in yours, won't pull them back from danger. I know this. Practice has revealed that I handle the thread I hold, the bit I can do, much more skillfully without the heavy coat. When I take a wider view of what is so in the world, I recognize that the burden of safety, of everyone's well-being, is not my responsibility alone. That something going wrong is not my fault and not mine alone to fix. I'm learning an important truth again: I more skillfully play out what I can do when I am light and at ease, flexible and aware, not stooped and weighted by ineffective worry.