I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling increasingly hopeless these days. I have been struggling with the realization that I have virtually no control over what will happen in my life in the next few years.
I can’t stop the climate crisis, no matter how many “plastic free” soaps I buy. I don’t have a way to slow or stop the Covid pandemic, other than wearing my mask and getting my shot. I can’t control the flow of lies that is sweeping the country, or the twisting of reality that I see every day on social media.
I can’t stop myself from aging. I can’t control the growth of the microscopic cancer cells in my breast. I can’t control the weather or the midterm elections or the price of gas or the supply chain.
I feel as if I am in the middle of a vortex of terrible outcomes, and that leaves me breathless with fear and sorrow.
So I am trying my best to adjust my focus. I am trying every day to look at life as if I were peering through the lens of an old 35 millimeter camera.
And I am finding that this shifting focus is both encouraging and enlightening.
Last night, at the end of a beautiful clear September day, I sat outside on my deck. I rested my head against the back of my chair, aware that we are in the waning days of summer. I lifted my eyes to the bright blue sky above me, and watched a line of clouds, beautiful and gentle, as they slowly drifted over our house.
And I started to think about the fact that those clouds look just exactly the same as the clouds that have drifted over my head for all of my 65 years. I have no doubt that they look just the same as the clouds that floated lightly over my parents and my grandparents and the grandparents who came before them.
No matter what wars rage below them, clouds continue to slip from west to east across this continent. In spite of the anger and fighting that goes on below them, clouds are formed and clouds are lifted and clouds are moved along the current of earth’s winds.
As my head rested on the back of my deck chair, I found myself comforted by the serene and distant movement of those clouds.
“When I die, ” I realized, “those clouds will not mourn. They will not react. They will continue to coalesce, and form and rise and float along the path that earth has created for them.”
I love that thought.
My focus had shifted, away from myself and my little life, to a wider and more expansive view, in which the survival of the earth seemed assured.
I was relieved and calmed by this wider focus.
This morning, after a night of intense thunderstorms and heavy rain, I went out onto my deck once again. I stood leaning on the bannister, a cup of hot coffee in one hand.
My yard is overgrown, slightly unkempt, and looking more like an emerging forest than a suburban garden.
It made me feel bad. It made me feel as if my world is out of control.
I stood there for a minute, feeling sad.
And then I noticed that one of my overgrown bushes was shaking. The branches were moving up and down, although there was no wind.
As I watched, a tiny chipmunk emerged from under the drooping leaves of a daylily. It’s nose was twitching rapidly, and it’s little hands were moving up and down. I leaned in a bit, to see what the little creature was doing.
I realized that as I stood watching, this bitty little animal was happily gorging on the berries of a sapling that I had considered to be a pest. I smiled a bit, and settled against the warm wood to watch.
As my eyes adjusted, I realized that most of the newly grown “forest” was shaking, and I saw chipmunks, squirrels and even one teensy mouse working swiftly and efficiently in my overgrown garden. They were gathering seeds, gathering berries, clearly feeling wonderful about life in general.
I had to smile.
My unrestrained and overgrown garden bed, which had seemed to me to be nothing more than an eyesore and a condemnation of my laziness, was actually a wonderfully stocked pantry for the many lives that share this bit of land with us.
My focus shifted again, from myself and other humans, to the tiny creatures with which we share our space.
So I am calmed. I am encouraged.
While I mourn for the struggles that we humans are enduring, my fear that life itself is meaningless has been assuaged.
I may be helpless to change the course of events around me, but the clouds will continue to float. The mice will continue to gather seeds.
Life beyond our reach will go on, and I find that to be enormously encouraging.