When I was a little girl my father would sometimes take me to the playground. I loved the swings. I hated the seesaw.
The swings were magic carpets for me. Because they were hung at different heights I could choose a very small one which fit me perfectly. Then I could fly! If I wanted to, I could pump my little legs really hard and soon I was up in the clouds. Or I could let my legs hang loosely and glide gently as if in a small boat on a calm lake. I could even do both. It was my choice.
After what always seemed like much too short a time my father would take my hand and lead me to the seesaw. I did not want to go, but I was afraid to say no for fear of hurting his feelings or making him angry. He would place me on the seat at ground level and then move around to the other side. My father was very tall and had long legs — long enough to reach the bottom when the seesaw was up in the air. How I dreaded what was coming next! “Here we go, Carole. Hang on!” Then my little body was shot up into space as he pulled his side down! Terrified, I hung on for dear life, clutching the straps so hard they would bite into my hands. Even worse, I knew that at any minute I would descend at warp speed back to earth and that the violent launch and descent would continue at his pleasure until he got tired of playing. Totally unaware of my misery, he would smile, take my hand and we would walk home.
Amazing that a 65-year-old childhood memory could have such powerful emotional resonance today! And yet it does. A difficult year, one of the most difficult in my life, has put me right back on that seesaw. It is Father Time who sits on the other side.
When I am grounded, with my feet planted and comfortable on my seat, I am a woman in charge of her life. I have reasonably good health. My finances are in order. I have a sense of purpose. I have a wonderful group of friends. My days are filled with enjoyable activities. I experience kindness and beauty. Each day is a blessing.
Everything changes when Father Time takes his place on the seesaw. I am up in the air, vulnerable, frightened and out of control. I have a spinal disease that causes pain and lack of mobility. Changes in employment and the economy create significant financial problems. I feel confused and lack direction. My group of friends diminishes as poor health and death take their toll. Activities that once seemed stimulating and fun are often routine and boring. I am horrified at the hatred and ugliness I see on my television and in my newspapers. Each new day seems to provide opportunities for sadness.
I am no longer a little girl. The playground is now my life. Somehow, I need to find a way to keep my balance on the seesaw. Can that be done? How? After all, there is no seat in the middle. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for over a year.
Perhaps it has something to do with weight. After all, Father Time is much heavier. What would give me an advantage?
Perspective. Is it possible I give him too much power? Am I weakened by my own mindset? Maybe the bent old man with the scythe is just one of the cast of characters that inhabit my head. Maybe there are others, superheroes or angels, that can give him a good fight! All I have to do is call them up. Chances are they will win at least part of the time!
Heart. There are times in my life when I have taken a stand for something right or good. I believe I am often a compassionate and kind person. Why not lead with my heart instead of my fear? Would that catch him off guard and give me an advantage?
Beauty. The rocky coast of Maine. The White Mountains of New Hampshire. Sailboats on the Chesapeake. Sorrento. The Alhambra. The parks near my home. The loveliest of all … the view from my window and my balcony. Trees, the stream and walking trails, birds at my feeders, all the woodsy animals, my flowers and herbs in their pots. I am reminded daily that life is beautiful.
Faith. In myself. In the goodness of others. In a universe that tilts in favor of peace. In Judaism.
Prayer. I say short ones every day. Morning and night. Usually ones of my own design. Sometimes I rely on the traditional, but in either case I make sure I express my gratefulness for the gift of life. I must make certain that I continue this practice.
As time goes by, I may find other things to do. The Old Man is in for a fight! I will read and study and listen to those who are trying to find their equilibrium. In the end, how I play on my playground is my choice. I cannot avoid the seesaw. Father Time will always be heavier. Eventually I will no longer be able to keep my feet on the ground, but until then, I will do everything I can to find my balance.