We’re in the last throes of the semester and students are giving persuasive speeches. Their efforts lands in either the very good or the very not good category – rarely an in-between. When they are giving speeches, I sit at the back so I don’t distract with my layers of papers and evaluation forms. It’s also easier for them to look at the entire audience when I’m not so prominent in the room.
Last week, a student sat snuffling at the desk next to me. He muffled a couple of coughs in his elbow as kids are taught these days. “Go home,” I said to him. “You’re sick.” He nodded. “Are you speaking tonight?” He nodded again, muffling another cough. “Then leave after your speech,” I said. He shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t let my group down.”
Okay. I hadn’t been sick all semester and thought nothing more except to hand him a tissue from time to time. By Friday, my soft palette was achy and I began the regimen of Emergen-C and Air Borne. By Saturday, my throat felt like an army in dirty socks had been marching though. More Air Borne and Emergen-C. Sunday morning I felt okay so went to church. Cliff said stay home, but I didn’t. And by Sunday afternoon, I was bona fidely sick.
The past few weeks, as for everyone, have been pretty chaotic. Too much going on and too much to do and too many sudden changes in direction. Not much down time other than an evening stroll out into the yard before dinner to pull a couple of weeds, cut some asparagus, see how the flowers are doing.
All the spiritual traditions say the same kind of thing: Look. Slow down and look. See beauty. Take time with your life. Or else (there’s always an “or else”) you get struck down in one way or another – this time with a cold, another time with a heart attack, another time with a broken leg. Take time. That’s exactly why I walk into the garden in the evenings, to take time – but one fifteen minute stroll in the evening doesn’t solve the dilemma of the other hours.
No matter how many times we read or hear the same message, we get caught in the whirl. It’s even possible to be conscious that you’re in a whirl and still be caught. I’m reminded of Cliff’s homily yesterday on love – there are millions of songs, poems, books about love and yet we humans forget and easily become unloving.
So if being conscious of the whirl isn’t enough to stop (I’m reminded of the play title “Stop the World I Want to Get Off), what’s the answer? That play is roughly forty years old so it isn’t as if this particular time has the dibs on chaos. It’s been around; it will come back. So then the question becomes is stopping when we are caught in chaos, either in unloving chaos or too much to do chaos, the real answer?
I could have moved desks when the student next to me continued to cough and sniffle, but I didn’t. I handed him tissues and admired his dedication. From the beginning of the semester, I put an emphasis on being responsible to the community – both in the smaller groups and with the larger class as a whole. What could I say? Go home – my wellbeing is more important than the group?
In reality, being conscious of chaos doesn’t necessarily allow you to sidestep all the time. And once again, I will learn that instead of sidestepping chaos, the task is to learn to live with it. To stop being cranky because my head is filled with gunk and my chest hurts. In modern-day vernacular, that’s basically what the Buddha said: suffering is part of the human condition but you can choose how to live with that suffering.
I will stop. And rest. And put off errands and chores. And, most importantly, be at peace with my choice and my body.
Today, I’ll take the slow, winding path that leads past benches where I can sit, watch the sunlight, be at peace. Come sit beside me and look at the sunlight. And with the gift of cyberspace, you won’t even hear me sniffling.