I’m sitting in my living room with my coffee, and the cats, watching the snow melt. In mid-April.
My husband is outside looking for a hammer he set down while doing some yard work before the storm, which he can’t find now because it’s covered in snow. I’d laugh at this, but he’s been distracted with so many unexpected circumstances hitting from all sides that it’s no wonder he forgot the hammer at the end of the day. We’re all a little out of our minds.
We’re coming up on two full months in quarantine. Life has changed completely as trips are canceled, projects put on hold, other projects come into focus, family gatherings are moved to online video chats and birthday card mail showers. Spring clothes were brought out in anticipation, then set back aside for sweaters and cozy socks. Again. Friends in the medical and senior care industries provide us with updates that are hard to comprehend.
I had a plan for this project. There were supposed to be challenges and weekly updates. I was supposed to make great “progress” in the last year of my 30’s.
I had a plan for my business this year. There were going to be speaking engagements, and meetings, and conference business trips.
Instead, my planner is gathering dust on the nightstand…
I am, however, very lucky. I keep getting client work. It’s giving me a baseline of productivity each day. And I know that there are only about 30 percent of us in the country who are able to do their jobs from home, so I’m counting huge blessings. I don’t have kids, so my work days are comparatively easy and disruption free (if we don’t count my husband in the other room, swearing at his computer).
I also have time each day to sit quietly and come to terms with everything going on around us. I can read and meditate, drink the coffee or tea, eat an entire bag of jelly beans. Take an hour in the middle of the day to zone out and watch some tv before finishing my next task. There are ways to cope. I’m making it through.
But—and I know I’m not the only one, here—the sense of anxiety and dread kept taking over, spilling from the subconscious into my main thoughts, keeping me up late. The list making and planning I did I the mornings felt useless and wrong by the afternoon. My sense of control dwindling as days passed and things just seemed further and further from normal.
I kept wondering, “Why am I not adjusting to this situation? Why am I not able to take control?”
Look at everything that has failed this year:
- January: New Year’s Party—Canceled. Reason: Flooded basement.
- February: Trip to Florida for Valentine’s Day and Conference—Canceled. Reason: Family death.
- All events in March and April, maybe more: Canceled. Reason: Pandemic.
And then I stumbled upon a quote, and it shook me out of my current understanding of the world, and it changed things.
Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.Franz Kafka, “Leopards in the Temple”
Chaos. My world view is based on my ability to control my surroundings. My ability to create the daily ceremonies that I depend on to feel in control. I haven’t accounted for the measure of natural chaos that is always a part of the world.
I’m still mulling over what this might mean on my way to run errands—an unexpected sense of luxury just to get in the car and go to the tax office! I am at a stoplight, daydreaming. Watching three geese take off from the grassy median in v-formation, flying up, up, up.
The first two geese soaring, and then I see it. The third goose, in trying to keep up with his crew, fails to notice the light post the other two have cleared. He hits it full force with his neck. He swings, flailing through the air, and falls dead to the snowy ground.
My mind flashes to the leopards drinking the ceremonial water.
We think that we can control our environments. We think that we can make anything happen with enough planning and hard work. We get frustrated, angry, and scared when things don’t work out in the timeframes we set, or if they don’t happen at all. We think of the injustice that the third goose didn’t make it. We get irritated when our ceremony is put on hold because the leopards drank all the water. Again.
I don’t know if we can say that the universe is trying to tell us anything. I don’t think I’m supposed to use this time to try to learn a lesson or better myself in some way. I don’t think any of us need to come out the other side of this collective storm with some sort of measurable, some productivity-driven goal achieved. I don’t think we were all put through this so that we could demonstrate new and better ways to control our surroundings.
Instead, I’m wondering what happens if we get comfortable with less control. Fewer deliverables. Less productivity. Less DOING.
What if we incorporated a little bit of chaos into our plans? Or at least, took the time to notice and note the chaos instead of trying to ignore it. I think it’s time to experiment. It’s time to drop the reigns, let go, and see what happens.
I have no idea what this looks like, and I’m pretty sure there’s no way to control any part of it, but I think it’s time to include the leopards in my ceremony.