Anyone who’s really gone through something knows that there’s a stage, or a day, or a short-lived hour, where you just become the dog with a hat in a bar full of fire. You tell yourself that everything is fine, and you sip your tea.
The first few times this happened to me, I worried about not worrying. Change feels like it needs our full attention as if, by monitoring it, we can grant ourselves control. In truth, most of the time, change needs nothing from us once it is rolling.
I used to think of the this-is-fine moments as a defense mechanism– a body’s way of turning off the churning that does not serve it. Now I think of the churning as the defense mechanism. A body’s way of creating the illusion of control.
The ability to keep sipping the tea is the default state. We’re designed to keep rolling. Our bodies know what our brains can’t grapple– that opportunities to influence change are not given to those who see them first, but to the ones ready. The ones rested, studied and committed.
I remember being a child in the kitchen screaming for Mamasaur to come back because all the pots were spitting water, overflowing and rattling. My panic remembers how she calmly shuffled past us, assessed the situation in a second, lifted one pot, switched two to different burners, and turned off a burner altogether. Then excess water was cleaned up, and one pot was stirred, and all of it seemed like a strange quick-footed ballet.
The one who can tell the rolling water not to spit is the one who has studied water and what motivates it, and what holds it, and what changes it. Not the one who exerted themselves just watching it.
Years later, I found myself on the other side of the dance, in a fire. Steph and I ran from our cell unit to the fire blazing on prison grounds, and the people we passed kept pointing in the general direction of the fire– screaming, fire, fire, fire. “I hope they know,” said Steph, as we dodged correctional officers and tall trays of prison laundry, “that none of that pointing is going to put it out.” I was still laughing when I threw my pack on, chuckling from behind the mask because I had already assessed the fire, and didn’t need to worry. We had the ability to change a change in motion. The opportunity was wide open and we were ready.
We had studied fire, and water, and our tools and our team. Now it was just a matter of doing the work in the short window of time we had to do it. Now it was a matter of making direct eye contact with the organizers who had seen a change like this many times before, who had turned a rage to a kindling many times before.
And so today, November 6th of the year 2020, I straighten my hat. I sip my tea.
I look around this world and commit myself to studying it, what it was, what it is, how it got here, where it could still go. I watch the strange quick-footed ballet of change-makers, and read about how they turned a boil gentle, how they bathed fire soft, how they lettered a world better.
I let my eyes close, because being rested is another way that I will be ready, because dreaming is how I will use my opportunities well.
I stretch my muscles. Relax my jaw. Take a deep sweet breath.
This is fine.
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