Monday, March 29, 2010

Teeter Totter

At 1:32 p.m. last Saturday, after a winter that was long and hard and heavy, spring arrived. At that moment, known as the vernal equinox, the center of the sun was on the same plane as the equator of the earth and there was a perfect balance of light and dark.

Or so they say.

Balance is a tenuous, ephemeral thing. It is achieved when my checkbook and the bank’s records agree. It is executed when an elfin woman-child throws her body into the air in some stupefying combination of twists and turns and flips and lands steadily on a 4-inch piece of wood. It is attained when, the life coaches and self-help gurus tell us, one’s physical, relational, professional and spiritual lives are seamlessly integrated into a whole.

I repeat: Balance is a tenuous, ephemeral thing.

My friend Margaret is 81. A few years ago her doctor, explaining that as people age their ability to balance wanes and that it is this declination that most frequently results in bone fractures, gave her an exercise to do every day. For two minutes she was to stand on one foot and, at the conclusion of the two minutes, switch to the other foot for the same length of time.

Margaret shared this with several of us not just to receive kudos on the ease with which she accomplished this (She did, in fact, get a enthusiastic round of applause.), but to encourage us to do the same. And I have. Not every day, not even once a week, but often enough.

This is what I have learned: It is more difficult to balance in bare feet than in shoes. It helps, starting off, to use your arms as ballast. And it, that is, perfect balance doesn’t last for long.

Which brings me back to the vernal equinox. One moment it was winter; the next spring. One moment the earth was tilted; the next it wasn’t. One moment everything was the way it had been; the next it was, suddenly, the way it is.

I saw, the other day, a clock face with no numbers, only a minute hand. On the left-hand edge of the hand were block letters spelling out "the past." On the right-hand edge of the hand were block letters spelling out "the future." The fairly obvious point of the artist who designed it was that everything except this moment is either the past or the future. All the time that ever was and ever will be is balanced on either side of the moment we call the present.

So, in a way, every moment is the vernal equinox. Every moment is perfectly balanced between light and dark, good and bad, what was and what will be.

I spent most of the winter complaining about the weather. Complaining and wishing for temperatures and conditions more to my liking. Complaining and using the weather as an excuse for my general malaise. Complaining and walking through most days oblivious to the fact that I was – in my cold, bare feet and, at times, with my arms waving wildly to avoid falling – exactly where I was supposed to be.

I can say with some assurance that the checkbook kind of balance isn’t ever going to be a problem for me. I can say with greater assurance that I will never perform a successful "flight element" on the balance beam. What I can say with no assurance, but with a great deal of faith, is that, with the spring sunshine on my shoulders and the spring breeze in my hair, I’m going to try really hard for that seamless integration kind of balance. And, with any luck, it will last for more than just two minutes.

Copyright 2010

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