Within Swinging Distance

September brings a new set of changes and challenges, and a host of adaptations as we find our Weh in autumn with this pandemic.  What is settling in many of us is the recognition that managing this virus is a marathon, not a sprint.  The thing is, you train totally differently for those two activities.  Changing stride from sprinting to running long distance is not a simple shift.  Especially for those who have sincerely believed that things would be different by now.


Fall introduces a new phase, with kids and school, with work–either remotely or socially distanced, and with connections to friends and loved ones.  For those living in regions that have all four seasons, looking ahead to winter is a little daunting in terms of less ease in hanging out together outside.  I’ll be the first to quote my friend and winter gear designer, Kevin Kinney, who says,“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  Still, it’s safe to assume that most people aren’t as inclined to share meals outdoors in the snow as they are on a warm fall day.


It’s in the air, you can feel it just-below-the-surface, an apprehension that keeps shoulders and jaws tight, not knowing how on earth things will unfold, kids will be cared for, or expenses will be covered.  Broadening our scope, the wider lens of inequity and division, of climate, and of health are enough to send us straight back under the covers!


This is the stuff of transitions, hard ones.  The in-between.  The not knowing.  The clutch of concern.  The anticipation.  There are plenty of options, should we choose to fret.  What are we humans to do with all we are holding?  How do we care for our circle of beloveds?  Ourselves?  People we know a little and like?  And those who we cannot believe think and feel the way they do?


There are no easy answers to these questions.  But peeking out from beneath my covers, I am reminded that all of us are facing these core concerns.  Not one person is exempt from impacts of this virus or from the powerful and passionate calls for reckoning around racism that ripple across our country and the world.  While the specifics and suffering of individuals and communities are heart-breaking and cruel in their range, everyone is touched by these challenges.  It’s as if the proximity of wrestling with these issues has brought us within reach of each other.  Within swinging distance.  It’s hard to see this as a good thing, but it does give me pause.  Like, if we are close enough to lash out, might we also be within reach of empathy?


I helped raise three girls from age five into adulthood.  Periodically I would tell them the two things I knew for sure.  Life lessons, if you will:

  • If you see a sunny patch, lay down in it
  • You can both be right


You can guess which was the harder truth for us to live by and sometimes to believe.  But as I witnessed and participated in the up-close, nowhere-to-hide intimacy of living under the same roof with three teenage girls and their mother, the notion of ‘both being right’ was a daily occurrence.  The drive to protect, advise, care for, and control stood in stark contrast to the drive to be independent, make their own decisions, choose their paths, and control their lives.


Indeed, all of us were right.  And all of us were wrong, if we are going to use that language.  No matter how much I might have disagreed with some of their methods, the underlying desire to become…to grow into themselves and discover who they are?  Well, who can argue with that?  Who can argue with a parent wanting the best for their kids and holding firm to what they believe will give their beloved children a safe and solid foundation from which to grow?


‘Both being right’ means looking well below the surface of behavior and grasping for what is driving it.  Empathy means being willing to dig around in the muck with each other and see through someone else’s lens.


As overwhelming and occasionally hopeless as our human condition feels to me some days, there is a small part of me that wonders if we aren’t on the verge of something radically different and pretty amazing, because – not in spite of – the fact that we are close enough to take swings at each other.


Don’t get me wrong, there are days I don’t even believe this.  But…like seeing through the flash of hummingbird wings, there is something on the other side of all this flapping.  For brief moments, in the right light, we can see through and beyond it.  As best as I am able, I’m trying to reach for the grappling and the occasional glimmer instead of the hopeless grumbling and judgement of which I am also fully capable.


If you see a sunny patch, lay down in it.

You can both be right.


As I told the girls during all of those years of eye rolling and bumping up against each other , of laughter and love and recitations of my two life lessons, this is what I’ve got, the two things I know for sure.


It makes me wonder if it’s time to take those life lessons out for a fresh spin in this up-close world and the nowhere-to-hide intimacy of living under the same sun.