October 27, 2013

I remember a stunt I saw on TV when I was a little girl. A man walked on a tight rope between the roofs of two buildings. He was at least 10 stories up, maybe higher, and he carried a long pole. I remember wondering how that pole was going to help since it wasn't long enough to save him if he fell. So, I did the research. For you young'uns, this meant I went to the reference section of the library, pulled out a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica and turned to the entry marked Tight Rope Walking. Then I turned to other volumes to look up words like inertia and gravity. I've always enjoyed research. So, while I was there I looked up information on tilling, tigers and tinnitus, just for fun.

To remind myself of the purpose of the pole, today I typed, "tightrope walker poles" into a search engine. It was faster, but lacked the tactile satisfaction of turning pages and looking at the photos. Funambulists (from the Latin for rope and walk) carry poles to help lower their center of gravity and increase their rotational inertia.

The lower the center of gravity of a given object, the less likely it is to tip over. Most of us intuitively stack things with the largest item at the bottom, smallest at the top. Carry a stack of items with the smallest at the bottom and you may make yourself a lovely example of slapstick comedy, sans banana peel. If a funambulist's pole was long enough and weighted properly, the center of gravity would be below the rope and so the one walking would require little to no sense of balance. He also would have lots of time to correct if he started to tip because the pole increases his rotational inertia.

Your balance is affected by what you carry. When you see a tightrope walker carrying chairs, balls and other stuff, he is working hard to keep from falling. The same is true if he is carrying nothing. He is working much harder to stay on that high wire. The ones who just carry that long weighted pole have the easiest walk.

Lately, I've been thinking about how to achieve balance. For five years our family life has been one challenge after another. Dad was diagnosed with AML soon after Apple Blossom was born. From that moment on, it was like the floodgates were opened. We have dealt with my own medical issues ranging from kidney stones that required surgery to digestive issues that left me on a very strict diet for over a year. My in-laws endured a series of medical crises that made it necessary to put them in an assisted living facility. It took nearly three years to get from the first crisis to the point they were settled in and safe. Hubby spent a year of this time on a rotation uptown that tripled his commute. The government placed him on Friday furlough for a few weeks during that time and is considering further implementation of furloughs to reduce the budget. In addition to these challenges, we had another baby and faced the usual trials of children being sick, cars breaking down and unexpected expenses.

This long period of extra stress had unexpected ramifications. Our children's behavior suffered. The house seemed to crumble around our shoulders. Things got scratched, dented, or broken and weren't fixed because we just didn't have time and energy to fix them. My normally well organized, clean if not always tidy house seems to be irretrievably junked.

Now that the situation with my in-laws has been resolved, furlough is at least temporarily ended, health issues have gone away and life has hit something close to stability, I am still unable to deal with the mess around me. Maybe we need to spend some time healing or detoxing. All I know is it continues to be more than I can handle.

As we drove home from what ended up being a terrible camping trip, I decided it was time to actively seek balance. Our lives have felt utterly out of balance for years and we've had little to no control over it. We invested immense energy and time into the lives of others and little to none in ourselves and it's time to get our lives in order again. We drew up a schedule of cleaning and repairs. We figured it will take us a few months to get our house back in order. We planned to knock out a room on a Saturday and then keep it maintained the rest of the week while keeping up with school, dishes, laundry, food, etc. We were looking forward to getting started the next weekend.

My dad recently learned that his body cannot take any more chemo, the leukemia cells are multiplying rapidly and he has only a few weeks to live. Our plan to clean house and get our lives back in balance will have to wait. That's ok. In the instance I heard this news I had sudden clarity. Balance is not achieved by keeping a clean house, but rather by maintaining what's most important. Over the past 4.5 years, the important thing has been to make sure that the people in our lives have been taken care of and that we have kept ourselves rooted in our faith. We have done those things and so we may have tripped, tilted and stumbled a bit, but we have not fallen. We will take a deep breath and step out onto the tightrope again. As wise funambulists we will only take with us that which we really need. We will lay down the plan to clean up our house and yard and hold on tight to that which gives us balance. As any mother knows, the messy house and yard will still be there in a few weeks, but the opportunity to spend time with my dad will not.

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