Written by Rose Riley
From the time we draw our first crayon masterpiece of flowers and sunshine, our expectations of life’s seasons seem formed: spring means melting snow revealing colorful blooms, “April’s showers bring May flowers”; gentle storms bring nourishment, renewal and warmth. Then the warmth of the spring sun graduates to the heat of summer; long days, short sleeves, ripe juicy fruits born from spring labors, barefoot comfort of earned relaxation, the oasis mirage of heat above pavement, the hot serenade of cicadas, sun-baked sand and skin, the cool refreshment of pools, lakes and oceans and the evening jewels of fireflies over fields and lawns. A season of harvest follows; reaping the benefits of hard work, bounty enjoyed and shared, grapes transformed to wine, thanks given, bulbs planted as gifts for the following spring, crisp mornings, evenings of cool. Bounty turns to winter’s blanket of peace, daylight fleeting, nature at rest, snowy quiet, rosy cheeks, the mesmerizing crackle and color of flames in the fireplace, wind whispering through fir trees, comfort found in mugs of cocoa, soft flannel and down warmth.
We seldom consider it but we’ve all lived in transition from our earliest days. Change surrounds us and involves us every day. Goodbyes and hellos. Day to night. Seed to tree. Warmth to cold. Hidden bulbs to spring color. Cold winter cheeks to sun baked faces. Quiet whispering breezes carrying seeds of change. Oceans lapping at coastlines. The mystery of life ending. The miracle of life beginning.
Life in transition. Through it’s rhythms we learn we can anticipate the changes, control our reactions, plan and schedule. Or can we?
In its abruptness, life’s more sudden changes disrupt our highly organized hours, interrupt plans, are entirely unscheduled, tilt and spin our lives off their axes. But do they really or have we grown to feel entitled to scheduled, anticipated, rhythmic events?
Is the moment of spring bloom ever known? At the very moment life begins inside a womb, is it known to any of us? Do you know the delicious dinner you’re making will be burned? Is the first snowflake a scheduled event? Are natural disasters ever predictable? As you dress for work, do you know a pink slip awaits? Is the exact moment of one’s death known?
Of course not. Yet in our Type-A worlds, we checked our schedules and don’t see “big change/moment of transition” listed there.
Our Type-A expectations lead us to believe we can control almost anything if we can anticipate it and schedule it. The trouble is we succeed in scheduling an infinitesimally small percentage of the life around us. Take a moment and see how we are daily reminded of how much we don’t control: How many of us have been foiled from getting to an important meeting by a canceled flight, kept from arriving at a child’s school event on time due to highway traffic, been “thrown off schedule” by a last minute run in a stocking or a ripped seam, found themselves chasing after a runaway dog on a morning already running late, plunged into darkness by a power outage, handed a pink slip after years of dedicated work, had life taken away by the unexpected death of a dear one.
We so often forget that change is more common than predictability, forget that all seasons of our life are transitory, resist when transition is more than a change in temperature, respond poorly to things unplanned, deny that while we choose we never really control. Life is forever unpredictable, wildly inconsistent, perceptibly unfair and brilliantly filled with lessons best seen in hindsight. Life itself is type-A resistant.
Perhaps, looking up from our Blackberries, iPads and cellphones, we could learn more from responding to the unexpected than resisting it, bend and flex with life’s seasons as well as sudden storms, stop wrestling to control life’s messiness and perhaps acknowledge that real life resides in the mess.
Kirk Schnieder, a famous psychologist, once challenged the college graduates to whom he was giving a commencement speech with the following:
Put down your cell phones and your neat formulations about jobs or status for a moment and listen to the following bit of folk wisdom (which I’ve slightly adapted from a poem by an Indian elder named Oriah, Mountain Dreamer). It’s called “Mountain Dreamer Speaks:”
I don’t want to know what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing
I don’t want to know how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive
I don’t want to know what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human
I don’t want to know if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy. I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty everyday, and if you can source your life on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon
I don’t want to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children
I don’t want to know who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back
I don’t want to know where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
Transitions. Unexpected changes. Unscheduled moments. Life is not Type-A. Life is Type-A resistant.