Stuck In The Middle With You
Updated: Jan 17
Sculpture by Alexander Milov
I got a phone call very late last night.
Normally, I turn my phone off early - it's part of tending to my personal resilience - but it has been a week, I was still awake, and the phone was still on.
Experientially, late night phone calls are rarely a good thing - I’ve lived long enough that even the thought makes my heart sink. So, when I heard the buzz last night and glanced down to see the name of an old friend I’d not spoken with in years, I immediately assumed the worst.
I’m pausing here to mention that I have permission to share this story. I think this is an important and oft-overlooked step: don’t share stories unless you’ve asked and received permission. There’s too much temptation to alter them to fit a narrative, or to make mistakes that erode their integrity.
I answered the phone to tears and anger. Lots of anger, some of it directed at me but most of it just spewing into the world writ large. This election outcome was not what they wanted.
Believe me or don’t, but the truth is that deep-seated fear often shows up this way. And since I have come to believe that fear ain’t nothin’ but a lying, conniving thief, I’m more than willing to hold space for it when it shows its face. There’s value in leaning in when people are angry and hurting – value for them and value for us.
My friend was afraid.
Personal fears. Economic fears. Religious fears. Health fears. Family fears. Education fears. Community fears. Future fears. They all came tumbling out en masse, sounding a lot like righteous anger directed at me, personally.
I know this person, so I let it come. This isn't who they ARE, this is where they were in the moment. And I breathed. And I got a glass of water. And when there was space, I asked questions and breathed more through the answers. I made tea.
I recognize the emotions.
For the record, I am a world-class catastrophizer.
I have just enough life lived, just enough education, just enough historical knowledge and just the right sprinkling of paranoia interwoven with conspiracy-theory to make my brain an extraordinarily dangerous place to dance.
Of course, the trouble with living in that particular space is that when a worst-case scenario doesn’t play out, I never stop, examine it and say, “well, whew! What a relief! I guess I overreacted!” Oh no. I conveniently forget I’d ever predicted doom and destruction, or assume it’s still coming and is just building momentum.
I know for an absolute fact I’m not alone in this. In truth, there are many, many millions of us who have been intensively training for the Catastrophe Olympics – y’all know who you are. And one of the many dangers lurking in social media is that we now have a platform where we can easily and quickly spread our deepest, darkest feelings and fears as *truth*.
On Friday I “vlogged” (someone tell me: is that really a word, or are my people screwing with me?) about the importance of fact checking our feelings. But here’s a thing I didn’t say: when we are eyeballs deep in strong emotion, rarely does the calm presentation of facts do anything but encourage us to double down. What DOES help is connecting with someone willing to hold space for us in our crazy, someone willing to allow us to pull those feelings out into the sunlight of the day, suspend judgement and genuinely ask curious questions until we are able, once again, to separate fear from truth.
"I hear you, and I'm curious about..." never started a fight, but it sure will take the vinegar out of a pickle. And it seems important to remember that the stories we tell ourselves rarely contain the whole truth (especially at 1 a.m.)
There’s no wrapping this up with a pretty bow. I can, however, say this: The call was esemplastic. It ended with my friend’s audible relief, an “I love you,” and the promise to keep listening. My friend felt safer and now has a broader lens, and I was reminded once again that the very best thing for a human in pain is another human who is willing to listen.
I’m not naïve: there is evil. I’ve encountered it. I’ve even, on one memorable occasion, saved its life. But true evil isn’t a space that most people occupy.
Are we selfish? Yes. Are we self-centered? Definitely. Are we self-serving? Without question. Much of that comes from fear, misunderstanding and scarcity thinking. We are myopic - our world views and experiences are limited. So. Damn. Limited. And yet we have enormous opportunity to grow beyond those limitations if we will simply slow down and listen with curiosity. Allow others to tell us how they are making sense of the world. Respond rather than react.
This election is the “end” of exactly nothing. It isn’t the beginning of anything, either. As miserable as it feels to say this, we are in the middle, and the middle is bloody hard. Yes, half the country danced with joyful abandon this weekend -- it was a hard-earned and desperately-needed celebration, some bright light in the dark. But half isn't enough. We need more of us.
Ensuring we have capacity to spare – that our reservoirs aren’t going to run dry – is more important today than it has ever been. We are in the middle of a rapidly growing pandemic that has claimed a quarter of a million American lives and left our healthcare system and providers exhausted and swamped; the middle of remote education that has everyone overwhelmed and weary, and; the middle of political and social upheaval that has the potential to get much worse.
The middle isn’t forever, and it needs more of us leaning in and loving hard.
We can fix anything but dead.
Stay safe, brave and kind. And hydrated. :)
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