That big south west exposure. Here bright air gives things weight. Below blue sky, heavy trellises seem suspended in time. I step out into late summer honeysuckle dusk. A whir of wings. The sing-sang-song three notes of the bleached wooden wind chime.
Going for my habitual run this morning I find myself thinking over the problem of accountability—the feeling that we have to make every moment count. The result is we always feel behind. Nothing is quite enough. It’s easy then to let sympathy and empathy wear thin, to feel frustrated.
Somehow out in the sunshine with the grass underfoot things can rebalance themselves. Or when I shut my eyes and the eye-pain from the iPhone subsides and I relax, it is easier not to feel I have to strain against circumstances to make good on each moment.
Instead the moments arrive as gifts. It becomes possible if not easier to dwell on what is there and not what isn’t. This is more than a psychological game of glass-half-full. It is a practise of love. It is joyfully accepting others, openly accepting reality, and affirming – reaffirming—the goodness of being itself. It is more than abstract. It may be lived out in love for a soul-mate and differently for any number of friends and fellow creatures.
Running opens the distances. I am not counting my steps or trying to account for them in some way. Yes running is a way to improve my body and relax my mind but running as I do with my visual impairment and my need to be aware of the potential for running into things, falling over, etc., I find that release of running is staying aware even while letting go of the desire to solve puzzles, including how best to make use of the moments.
In employee relations, a realm in which I often find myself trying to solve human puzzles, this is important for the oft-talked-about problem of ‘work-life balance’, work-related stress, bullying and harassment, discrimination, etc. It’s about reseeing things and people for their intrinsic value, their superfluous goodness. People variously disabled by inflexible social systems are often left feeling useless even as they are told they must be independent in various ways. Perhaps the feeling of uselessness is not only negative and imposed, maybe a way in which society oriented around power allows us to feel inadequate, but maybe it’s also true in a positive sense.
Philosopher William Desmond descrbies what he names with the pejorative-sounding ‘idiocy’ as the identity as gift not determined by external valuation. This for me is the love that speeds running. All people are meant to be and by being to incarnate the goodness of the gift of existence. They are not to be used, not to be simple service-providers. People disabled by society may embody this particularly. We see that this actually applies to everyone whatever our current state. The sun and grass are there for all and we need to enjoy and share them.
It’s a misty Friday. I have worked through a check-list of tasks. I can at least see the piece of paper and feel I can point to things I’ve gotten done this morning. But perhaps inevitably it feels there’s something I haven’t done.
So I go outside. The air is fresh and cool. It must have rained overnight. I realise that today may be a day of planting, of starting things growing, helping things move along. The heavy ache of eyestrain lifts somewhat in the cool overcast light.
For some reason a passage from scripture comes to mind, one of the epistles of St Paul, 1 Cor 8: 3-5 describing how a husband and wife should please and satisfy each other. The wording ‘please his wife’ came to mind. Please, pleasure, but also entreaty, wooing, asking permission, knocking to see if a door is open, feeling whether a boundary is porous.
Mutual benefit seems to flow from opening myself to the flow that moves through the particular tasks I do, even if I list them, or even do them, at least in part to make myself feel I am doing something.
Going outside into the cool air and pale, pellucid-leaf-filtered sunshine helps. I put into perspective more of that passage where it describes how husbands should love their wives with complete self-giving generosity as Christ loved the Church.
Men are often ego-driven, libido-driven, power-driven creatures. It is easy to smile at the exhortation to sacrificial love even if you take it seriously. But it seems also to point to a letting go of rigid boundaries of self-definition and accomplishment, of being a hero, bringing home the bacon (or its vegan equivalent), winning the bread.
Self-worth comes through doing good things yes but through not just achieving and maybe not even just giving but opening ourselves and letting ourselves pour out and being poured through. The sky is covered with thicker white cloud. A drainpipe trickles persistently.
It’s a brilliantly sunny spring day. This morning as I ran around the outside of the fence now enclosing the park where I have run for a couple of years, I noticed the intensity of the colours and the white fuzz of dew on the grass.
My feet still hurt a bit from a long walk yesterday with our son, but I was pushing myself, running, thinking abstractly about what it means to be a man. Then – ouch! I hit something.
A part of the fence had been bent down and was protruding across the route around the park. The impact hurt. I resented the fence even more. I resented not seeing the bent-down section. I kept running.
I noticed the irony in this defiant act of protest hurting me who inwardly protested the fence. Then I thought, I can run through that gap! So I retraced my steps and went through into the open space of the park.
I could have gone through that gap the first time if I had been walking mindfully, seeing all there was to see, rather than running off angrily.
I had been mulling over work and manhood and the biblical creation story, especially the creation of Adam. His name seems to mean something like ‘reddish’ and is cognate with another Hebrew word for ‘earth’. Of course he was taken from dust. But his fate is also to till the earth. As men it is easy for us to identify completely with our work. Red-earth Adam is the toil of tilling the soil.
Adam was not supposed to be alone. Yes there is a strong identification between his name, his identity, and his job. But that is not all there is to it. And that is because only along with Eve is Adam described as made in the image and likeness of God.
All men, and perhaps in specific ways men who self-identify as disabled, or as part of another category marginalised by the dominant ways in which society is organised, are faced with the temptation to prove your worth, to do it yourself, to make it on your own, to be a hero. And certainly initiative and creative energy are valuable and important. But it is just as important to remember that we are not alone and that we are by being together. The dew on the spring morning grass as we look back in anger at the fence may be the dew of the Creation story but we are not made to be alone and our worth as beings flows through each other from the inexhaustible source of being. The sunlight pours through translucent leaves. We’re not striving and running, just letting it be. We walk along the path.
It’s drizzly and chilly. The roads seem busy for a Friday. It’s hard not to feel jumpy. I need to calm down and focus. I have a document to finish writing analysing a proposed policy impacted disabled staff.
Institutional expansion seems to mean less resources of certain sorts for certain sorts of people. How can I respond and speak truth to power and stand up for justice in a persuasive way?
Even as I tell myself this, the word ‘need’ gives me pause. Of course we hear this word all of the time in different contexts and forms. Parents may protest at what seems like the misuse of the word when ‘want’ is really more accurate and appropriate. I remember R.E.M. singing ‘what we want and what we need has been confused…’
Disabled people of course have particular perspectives on need. It can take the form of feeling dependent or feeling we are made to feel dependent. On the other hand public policy and language also often pushes the agenda of impendences. Here in the UK we have the so-called ‘personal independence payment’ benefit for disabled people. The ‘social model of disability’ analyses how society creates unnecessary need by insisting on conformity to what is deemed ‘normal’ and refusing to resisting being flexible. Disabled people are thus put in positions of need.
It seems to me that it can be easy to get categories mixed up. That is, ‘need’ may be most appropriate and accurate for matters of being. If we understand things in a broad philosophical context, as beings we need the source of being. Christians understand this as God. As children we need our parents but perhaps even this is slightly different although it is analogous to our need for God.
Yet this need does not deprive us of the freedom to dance free in the world. Instead it allows it. So we relate to others as fellow dancers, we delight in their movements, letting them be and being with them, of course perhaps we object or critique, we work with them, watching and helping create patterns of movement and stillness.
And now outside the wind has risen. The one student with an umbrella watches it blow inside out and bursts out laughing. The finer rain sparkles. This is not just a projection of a lighter mood. It is a matter of being in time.
The wind blows, the rain falls. We are ourselves breathing and being in and through time. That is the gift that we need and it keeps coming as we go.
Today is middling sort of bright but overcast day, not warm yet not cold. There are lots of Chinese students around. The clock ticks. Pent up energy makes your feet tap.
This morning I went running as I almost always do unless it’s raining really hard. Recently I’ve had to contend with a gated fence which a school from a nearby neighbourhood has put up around our park ostensibly to make it safe for its pupils to use for sports.
I have found myself running back and forth around what the school’s headmaster in official communications has called ‘the perimeter’. Today I found the one way into the park. This did mean I got lost and missed that entrance as a way out. But running can be like that, a regular habit and task which can be interrupted by unexpected change.
When you don’t quite match what the rest of the world thinks is normal, such interruptions may come more frequently or be harder to absorb.
Running is perhaps none of those routine things that I give regular attention to. Without it a sedentary job with spikes of stress would leave me both not at all physically challenged let alone anything like physically fit but also rather deprived of fresh air, birdsong, and branches snapping in my face. (Since the erection of the fence my route around the perimeter has featured a particularly tricky branch.)
I don’t quite run to make myself feel good or make myself feel I’m doing something for my fitness, though those are part of it. I run because I love the energy of the morning, the absolutes of gravity, the earth pushing back against my feet, the air cooled by expanses of grass, and I run for love of my wife.
There are other ways to make myself feel better. Sometimes we talk to make ourselves feel better. Supposedly British workers stay at the office longer than colleagues elsewhere in Western Europe. But national productivity levels don’t suggest that longer hours mean more stuff happening. Not that all of what people do in those long hours is talk let alone talk to make themselves feel like they’re doing something. But there’s a balance to strike between doing things for the sake of it and keeping on top of mundane tasks that need regular attention.
Now running is not talking or writing. Nobody is obliged by social convention or where they are sitting relative to you to feel they have to do much if you are running. But maybe talking to feel like you’re doing something and running to make yourself feel you’re looking after yourself can be similar.
One alternative to keeping up the sppearences of doing something is to take the proverbial step back and focus instead on making the connections and developing the ideas that will really make things change. That seems wise. Of course if your ways of not fitting what is viewed as normal mean that the routine tasks everyone has to do take longer it’s much harder to choose to spend more time on those productive activities and less time on the busy work.
So maybe it’s as important or also important to go outside, to let that middling bright overcast early afternoon light wash over you, hear the Chinese students talking cheerfully, listen to the birdsong and wonder if it’s really quite right to hear that at the start of March. Maybe those moments of running through the dark, trusting one footfall following after the other, can open new ways of doing things or new things to do. But more than doing maybe it’s about being as doing, being the runner running, running back along the perimeter and finally through the gap into the park.
It’s a brilliantly sunny, fizzy-feeling day. It’s a little hard to concentrate. It feels like spring but you don’t want to say that for fear of jinxing it. Worries seem suspended however heavy. The sunshine spills through the still bare branches of maple and oak trees. Further along the road the very first blossom trees are just coming out white. The day seems poised.
A half-listened-to inspirational reflection on the radio this morning comes to mind as I try to focus on work, something about respecting and helping each other achieve our individual goals. I tense up remembering it and deliberately have to sit back in my office chair.
Sigh. Why do goals annoy me? One reason is that they seem like ways others can judge those who do not conform or measure up. Even with the most selfless love, looking at someone in terms of goals means thinking about how they aren’t doing this or that.
To me it seems more fulfilling and maybe more beneficial instead to try simply to provide others with what seems required for them to move ahead or veer left or right if they wish and to stick with them as they do it. This means being ready to respond, being patient with others and yourself, and perhaps consciously putting others first.
I was struck recently by a passage from the story of the creation of Adam and Eve from Genesis by Adam’s delighted outburst ‘This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’. I had always assumed this was typical male egocentrism — bone of MY bone, flesh of MY flesh. But I realised Adam was all there was when it came to humanity. He was simply saying, ‘Here’s another human being, not a zebra or a goat or a cicada or a stalk of broccoli!’
When we deliberately and mindfully put others first, we become open to perceiving unseen bonds of kinship and the surprise of kindness. We see under the performance curves and targets to sense the heartbeat. And that makes it easier to breathe easy on a heightened, brightened, almost-spring sunny day.