Life has been flying past me lately. Or rather, I have been flying through life. I recently spent close to three weeks on difficult negotiations at the UN in New York (New York, where everything moves on hyperdrive anyway), working long, lunch-less days, only to return home and continue working on the same negotiations from here, with the same hours.
My son, meanwhile, has been at camp for five weeks, with one more week to go. I miss him all the time, but this weekend I missed him something crazy. I found out yesterday that he’d been feeling homesick over the weekend, too. When we got to speak and I told him he was better off up in the great Canadian wilderness than being in the city while I worked, he was silent for a moment then said, “But Mum, you should be enjoying your summer!” Oh yeah, summer. Quite right. I remember what summer is like…
But there’s much important work to do, work I believe in, and anyway, it’s preferable to keep busy while he’s away.
Of course, when you’re tired and stressed and overwhelmed and missing a part of your soul, all the negative is magnified and everything feels bigger, worse, more dire. So in the end, working more probably isn’t the answer.
If I can catch myself when everything becomes too overwhelming, when it all moves too fast and I feel as though I might drown, I try to focus on the small, delicate details of the world around me. I remember how aware I was as a child, how intimately I knew the flowers of a specific plant, the terrain of the earth beneath it, the patterns of its leaves. How I followed and memorized the veins of quartz cutting through granite. Or the positions of the stars in the summer sky.
This weekend, disillusioned and overwhelmed and brain-tired, I went out to weed, to reconnect with nature and escape all the words and all the screens, and this memory of my childhood familiarity with the world came back to me. I sat down in the path, got as close as I could to the plant beside me, and looked. I forgot everything else. My world shrank down to the size of the plant – variegated leaves, pink flowers, knobbly bumps of earth and mulch beneath. Briefly, I let that feeling of childhood wash over me. I tried to hold onto it but, after 40 years, it’s elusive. Perhaps it takes practice.
Later, as I sat on our rooftop deck and let my gaze sink into the indigo sky of evening, a plane cut across my line of sight. Small, toy-like. The sun glinted off it, turning it copper, polished, bright. The expansiveness of the sky, the minute plane, and I, smaller still. I felt again the way I had in the garden. Real. Small. Connected to something concrete.
When life is flying past, whether we let it because it’s easier than stopping and feeling, whether it takes over because of factors beyond our control, the best thing we can do is reach out and take hold of something, anything. Reach out and hold on – to the flowers, the trees, the earth, the stars. Let them slow the spinning, if only for a moment. Let them bring you back, bring you down, let them ground you.
Remember to look around, then. Stop thinking and instead, feel.