“The most exciting movement in nature is not progress, advance, but expansion and contraction, the opening and shutting of an eye, the heart, the mind. We throw our arms wide with a gesture of religion to the universe; we close them around a person. We explore and adventure for a while and then draw in to consolidate our gains.” ~Robert Frost
I was talking with a friend who has been undergoing treatment for cancer. She commented that it’s been hard to reconcile the polarity that everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. Everything–her perspective, her sense of herself, of security, the new focus on healing–has changed. Yet she looks out her window and kids are still going to school, the seasons change as always, life goes on. Living with both realities, she said, is difficult but comforting.
She said it reminded her of a rabbinic story she heard in her childhood, an old midrash about a sage who always kept two notes–both quotes from scripture–on his person, one in each of his coat pockets. The first one reminded him that “the world was created for you.” God set this glorious table of creation, all the wonders of the world, just for humans to experience and enjoy.
The second one reminded him that “from dust you came, and to dust you will return.” Individuals are so terribly impermanent, inconsequential…they come and go in an instant of history.
I love the thought of these folded up, tattered, contradictory notes keeping the wise man both inspired and grounded. I’ve been thinking about that story ever since. About contradictions. And choosing between polarities.
Or not choosing between.
Sometimes I feel like a walking contradiction: Shy/friendly. Adventurous/homebody. Confident/insecure. Serious/silly. Worrier/laid back. Planner/procrastinator. Hopeful/pessimistic. Wishy/washy. Mother/student. Seeking/content. Reverent/raucous. To name a few.
In brisk self-improvement mode, it is tempting to try to weed out some of those opposites. Yet choosing one or the other of the pair feels like I’ve left a little, important other part of me behind. Nature’s lessons seem to insist that life is not often an either/or proposition but a swing between contradictions: the quiet and waiting winter, the bright raucous summer; the rush of high tide and the tender, exposing low tide; the expansion and contraction of hands, eyes, hearts.
True, some contradictions certainly require choices (the Garden of Eden comes to mind, for one. Choices between good and evil, another). But my friend’s midrash memory makes me wonder if there is a kind of power in the combinations of some polarities. Maybe some of my contradictions each deserve a place in a pocket.
Are you a linear person or a cyclical one? Or…both?