May 22, 2020

Just Wait

By Megan Rolfe

Sometimes it feels like we are stuck and there is no way out.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot due to…oh, you know, current circumstances. Where I live, there has been a lot of deep breathing and holding my palm to my heart and the reclassification of Oreos as an “essential pantry item.” Maybe you too have been taking deep breaths and eating a lot of Oreos.

I wrote a whole draft of this post the first week of March, and it was all about how we often do things ahead of time that we really don’t need to. I just re-read it and thought, “who the hell is this person?”

First-week-of-March self was proactive and spunky and a go-getter, kinda annoying but sweet in her now unfathomable ability to envision and plan two years into the future. Third-week-of-May self is more like, “Hey, let’s just tackle the next two hours and see where things are, shall we?”

First-week-of-March self was an over-functioning do-er who knew she needed to chill out and do a little less.

Third-week-of-May self isn’t so sure about what to do anymore.

I know you may feel stuck and hopeless, because sometimes I feel stuck and hopeless, even though I “know” I’m supposed to be grateful and lean into this moment and seize this opportunity to listen to the universe and nature is healing, etc. Like you, I vacillate between okayness and not-at-all-okayness, pain at my suffering and guilt at my relative lack of suffering, heartiness by what I can offer and defeat by all that I cannot, joy at the smallest, simplest delights and grief at the awful, yawning, terrifying scale of it all.

Some days all the work is about trying to live just beside the despair and shame and guilt and horror, not in it. We are trying the best we can with the tools we have, and no matter how resourced we are, sometimes we might still feel stuck.

How about…not doing anything for a sec?

I’ve been thinking about pressing “pause” on the doing/desperately trying to figure out what to do. I’ve been thinking about maybe just sitting with the stuckness. What if I just waited? What if the path will be clearer if I stop trying so dang hard to get unstuck?

It reminds me of this swim test I took in college. The test sounded simple enough: you had to dive in at one end, swim to the other side and back, and then keep yourself afloat for the rest of the five minutes. Easy peasy, right?

But it had been a couple of years since I’d been swimming, and wow, it was a lot harder than I remembered. Like, a whole lot harder. Those last few minutes of treading water wore me out, and I was exhausted when the coach blew the whistle to signal the test was over.

I knew I probably only had enough strength for one chance at pushing myself out of the water. So I placed my hands on the side and gave a good heave, only to fall back into the side of the pool. I tried again, squirming and grunting with all my might, and fell back.


I saw someone beside me grab the side of a diving board and pull themselves out, and I reckoned maybe I’d have a chance if I did the same. I gripped the base of the board and pulled with everything I had, but I was only able to get my body up a few inches out of the water, just barely enough for me to reach wildly and grasp the top of the diving board, which promptly popped off in my hands as I fell back with a hard splash into the water.

The coach approached the side of the pool where I was the lone swimmer, gasping like a dying salmon, the plastic top of the diving board floating with far more grace and dignity beside me. She pointed to my right.

It was a ladder. There was a ladder beside me this whole time.

I meekly bobbed over to the ladder and climbed out. I took one step onto the wet tile and promptly ker-splatted on the floor.

I stood up, mustered any sense of self I had left (um, not much), and with great care walked the dozen or so feet to the registration desk, where the coach stared at me warily as she signed off that yes, somehow I was able to prove that I could keep myself alive for five minutes, but after that I was total shark chum.

This experience has imprinted on me in a lasting way. I can with perfect clarity remember that moment, the feeling of being submerged up to my ears in water, limbs aching, lungs gasping, arms and legs flailing, and the mirage of a ladder manifesting like the coach had divined it herself.

I was too busy trying to get out the pool to actually get out of the pool. I was too caught up in my story of there being only the ways I had tried. I was too focused on panicking to simply notice my way out was right beside me.

It is hard to take that breath and look for the ladder. It is hard. It goes against all our instincts to calm down when our fear response has kicked in, and we are scrambling, spiraling, flailing. And we often don’t give ourselves permission to pause when we feel it’s up to us to fix it, to be responsible for ourselves and/or others, to solve…everything.

And let me be clear that waiting is not giving up or doing nothing. It’s a temporary pause. It is a momentary, much needed re-tuning. It is a full entrance into this moment. Because, of course, a lot of our “doing” is just about trying to exert any semblance of control in the face of complete uncertainty and incessant change. Even worrying is something for us to do.

Waiting is about making space for other possibilities we can’t yet imagine, but time and incessant change will offer up to us. It’s about slowing down juuust long enough to notice the ladder beside us.

Now, even if you get out of the pool, so to speak, you might immediately wipe out on the tile floor with your very first step (as a hypothetical, non-specific example). No one ever said saving yourself is graceful, or easy, or fair, or that it’s a journey that’s ever finished.

What I am trying to say is this: how dang hard are you trying to get out of the pool right now? How dang hard are you trying to get out that you can’t even see the way(s) to get out?

And if you wait, whether two weeks, two days, two hours, or just two breaths, how many more possibilities could you see?


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