A hymn to the terror of change

“We all begin as a bundle of bones lost somewhere in a desert, a dismantled skeleton that lies under the sand. It is our work to recover the parts.”

—Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Are any of us ever ready for what’s next?

What’s ahead? What’s hurtling toward us? How can we possibly be ready?

We’re ready for nothing.

Normal daily life with no catastrophes? No. I don’t know how to handle that. I only know how to be comfortable in a crisis.

Another roller coaster of change and uncertainty? No. I’m not ready. I’m worn out. My shoulders must unlearn this tension before I can bear any new burdens.

I’m not ready for any scenario, but it’s not going to wait until I’m ready. Whatever happens today is going to happen. I’ll make my choices. The collision, the interactions between what happens to me and what I make happen form my reality. It’s terrifying. Who could be ready for this responsibility?

But I’ve also dealt with worst-case scenarios and made it through alive. Still glad to be alive, even. This morning I’m tired and have a headache and I don’t feel good and I don’t feel ready.

But I got out of bed and stretched and drank water and washed my face and made coffee and stared out the window and now I’m writing these words because that’s what I want to contribute to this morning hour.

The sun is shining and there’s a bundle of dead eucalyptus hanging on the wall and I’ll sit beneath it and work. Later I’ll take a walk and probably a nap. We’ll take down the Christmas tree. I’ll vacuum the floor. Drive a child to a friend’s house. Read a book. Get groceries. Get hugs.

Whether we’re ready or not, we’ll walk into each hour and receive what it brings. Or we’ll resist it, but the resistance won’t change what’s there.

When I was pregnant with R, I learned that resistance to the contractions is what causes most of the pain. My muscles were going to clench with a strength beyond my control. My body would do its work without my conscious permission. And my reaction would make that experience more or less painful. But however much pain I felt, the process would not stop.

Anything that touches us that’s beyond our control is terrifying. And I don’t think it’s possible to relax when you’re terrified. I didn’t manage a pain-free birth. I haven’t ever managed a pain-free change, or a terror-free crisis, or a perfectly calm and relaxed birthing of anything. But I am learning to see two kinds of pain, or fear. Two faces to each experience. There’s the contraction itself—the crisis, the birth, the wave, the process, the power moving in and through us and changing everything. And then there’s my response to it.