I was chatting with one of my neighbors the other day and she said she felt out of kilter, that the balance of her life was off. She felt like she was listing one way, then the other, that she was never on an even keel, maybe even in danger of going under. I knew exactly what she meant. I feel it, too.
I’m not much of a sailor—in fact, I’m not a sailor at all—but isn’t there a point at which a ship that is so far over in the water can’t right itself? The point at which gravity inevitably takes over and we do a slow roll, ending up keel to the sky? The moment when our equilibrium is irretrievably gone and our ability to rebound—our resiliency—is lost? Seems to me we’re awfully close to moment. Call it our human tipping point.
These days, everything is coming at us at warp speed: the great political divide; a global pandemic; an economic meltdown; our long and sad history of racial injustice. Big things. So when the little things start to happen—as they inevitably do—we’re already listing so far to port or starboard that it’s the little thing—the ice maker that won’t make ice or the flat tire or the telemarketer who calls at dinner—that sends us ‘round the bend. When everything else is roiled, the weight of that final straw might be negligible, but it can be enough to sink the ship.
I’m sure all this isn’t a new or original thought; in fact, it’s likely an over-worked metaphor, one that made Malcolm Gladwell a rich man years ago. But sometimes all it takes is a simple conversation with a friendly neighbor to crystalize a thought, to bring even an over-worked metaphor into focus. Physical balance is not complicated: it’s a condition in which different elements are equal or at least in the correct proportion. But human balance—emotional balance—is much more complicated. Each of us assigns differing values to those conditions that affect us so what’s a relatively minor inconvenience to you might be a deal-breaker or head-on collision to me. But now, or so it seems to me, there are so many meteors in the current shower heading our way each day that it’s almost inevitable one will crash into us and send up one of those life-extinguishing dust clouds that did in the dinosaurs. The tipping point has become the breaking point.
Mine is generally not a gloom-and-doom nature. My glass is almost always half full. But with each passing day, the half-full portion seems to grow smaller and I worry that I’ll wake up one morning like Eeyore: a pessimistic, gloomy, anhedonic, thistle-eating old grey donkey that can’t help but see the worst in everything and everyone. As much as I like Eeyore the character, I don’t want to become him; the wee wife would not be pleased. No; I want to be more like Anne of Green Gables: cheerful in the face of disappointment, always able to see the rainbow that comes after the storm.
So how do I regain my equilibrium, my balance? November 3 might help; so would a vaccine; so would racial reconciliation. But these are big things, almost beyond my ken. I guess I’ll have to start smaller: fix the screen door, put another coat of varnish on the gunwales of the canoe, weed the garden. I really don’t want to be out-of-balance any more; I need a dose of what my neighbor—a former consultant—calls ‘change management.’ I can take some pitch and yaw—after all, that’s life—but please, Lord, keep my kilter within reasonable limits. Is that too much to ask?
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com