The events of the past years have caused me to think a lot about the fragility of our world. The events of the past several weeks have caused me to feel even more distressed about the fragility of life itself. With friends and family taking shelter from the many natural disasters it is difficult to stay calm, in the midst of both literal and figurative storms.
The recent threat of tropical storm Henri caused me to recall my only first had experience of a hurricane. In the fall of 1985 Hurricane Gloria worked its way up the eastern coast of the United States, eventually crossing the Long Island Sound and passing over Milford, Connecticut where I resided with my family. To the best of my knowledge I had never before seen a category 4 hurricane or anything close to it. So as the storm was developing over the small beach community, I drove to a public beach and parked in the empty municipal lot. As I trudged toward the beach I fought through my way through the torrid winds and driving rain. I was able to get within about 100 yards of where low tide should have been before being hit with the spray of the crashing waves. This was the end of my misplaced bravado, and I ran back to my car and drove toward home and high ground.
From the relative safety of the third floor of our steel frame apartment complex we spent hours observing the storm and its many vicissitudes. Then the unexpected occurred. The eye of the storm passed over Milford. The winds subsided, the rain reduced to a drizzle and the sky took on a strange luminescence surrounded by an ominous frame of dark threat. It was then that I had an odd epiphany; calm is a place, a strange and unfamiliar place.
I don’t generally do calm, and I certainly don’t do it well. I hadn’t really known that because I had never been there before. I had always been good at fighting through and surviving life’s struggles, but I had never actually patiently sat in the eye of a storm before. I really didn’t know if I liked it, but I reckoned it was certainly a lot safer than walking in the storm. It was like being unable to scratch an itch, and yet learning how to ignore it. I previously understood calm as a condition that certain other people had, an innate passivity. I learned that that calm is not only a place, but also one that requires active occupation. I am reminded of this week’s haftarah portion, “Arise and shine! For Your light has arrived, and the glory of Hashem has shined on you.” (Isaiah 60:1) I have spent the last 32 years trying to get a little more comfortable in the place called calm. I am still working on it but here are a few of the lessons I have learnt.
Cede Control – This means letting go of trying to control things over which you have no control anyway. I believe one of the prime causes of our anxiety is our wanting things to be different than they are. Yes, we all want a peaceful world instead of a world filled with weapons of mass destruction. Yes, we all want health instead of illness. Yes, we all want healthy, happy children instead of children who break our hearts. But sometimes life doesn’t hand us what we want. When we stop needing it to all to be a certain way, we can breathe a sigh of relief and open the door to a more powerful way of living.
Regain Control – When we fully understand that you have little control over the external world, we then have two choices: either we can choose to see ourselves as victims at the mercy of circumstances or we can choose to develop the trust that, no matter what happens in our lives or in the world, we will have the inner strength to create something good from it all. I have found one way to develop personal trust is to cut off negativity by saying over and over again, “Whatever happens in my life, I’ll handle it!” So when the “what-if’s” are driving me crazy, I simply cut them off by saying over and over again, “Whatever happens, I’ll handle it!” I’ve actually learned at times to handle it, and get some sleep in the interim!
Embrace the Experience – Yes, you can learn and find strength from anything that happens to you, so despite what is happening in your life and in the world, constantly remind yourself “I can learn from this.” When you can see the opportunities inherent in all situations, good or bad, it truly helps you embrace all the uncertainty in your life. A prayer that I have found God will always answer when prayed sincerely is this, “Father, please accept me as I am, with all of my idiosyncrasies and foibles. Help me to grow from my mistakes and take my imperfections so that I might be of maximum service to you and others.”
Trust God – Oops! Who inserted the platitude? Can we honestly say, “Everything is happening perfectly,” when the world appears to be going to hell in a hand basket. Despite poverty, illness, and global anxiety can we truly begin looking for the good in any situation that life hands us. Well, why add to the angst? When we look for the good, we always find it. Yes, so much good can come from so much that is bad. In that respect, everything truly is happening perfectly. Besides God really can use all things for good. So when things seem very difficult in your life or in the world, I just keep reassuring myself that God is in control, that the Chief Architect has not only created the world but maintains it as well. I have a friend who likes to say, “When the King is on the throne, I don’t have to bear the weight of the world on my shoulders.”
Get Involved – The fact that God is in control does not negate my responsibility to get involved. Positive action has an amazing effect on our psyche. As we take action, we begin to feel more powerful and our fear about the future decreases considerably. I like to think to myself, “My life purpose and I will do whatever I can to improve my small corner of the universe.” Or in the words of Rabbi Tarfon, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
It is not easy to stay in this strange and mysterious place called calm. Outside its oddly luminous confines are dark ominous clouds that need to be dealt with. What I have found is that when I cede control over creation to the Creator, I can regain control of my own inner sanctum, an even make a difference in the small corner of the world that I co-habit. And I don’t have to do it alone. It takes a lot of work for me to stay in a place called Calm, and I am not sure I like it. But it is certainly safer than the storm.