The title of tonight’s musing certainly sounds like something out of a Lewis Carroll novel, but in the radio silence of my last month without chronicling, I’ve discovered that, what really felt like pivoting, was, in fact, just me trying to go up the down staircase.
M.C. Escher had the same idea in her lithograph, titled Relativity, where the seemingly endless staircases house inhabitants who exist in different planes of gravity. There is no real exit, and the same up and down futility is present, despite the manifold steps provided—there are even doorways meant to tantalize the pedestrians, but, to where? It seems a little hamster-esque, running on life’s wheel but without a destination.
Like many others, who have had their share of 2020’s surprise bonus levels, it sometimes feels like I am trekking to nowhere, just trying to accomplish forward motion on the escalator heading towards the bottom. Sounds a bit depressing, really, but I’ve gained little ground in this season that feels a lot more like Chutes and Ladders. I despised that game as a child, and am no less adverse to it in adulthood.
My down staircases have been comprised of familial strife and unexpected loss, the sleepless, zombie life of parenting two children in vastly different stages of growth, continual COVID worry at home and work, planning and teaching my own child and my community’s through a pandemic, losing my resolve to focus on my own health, and struggling to maintain healthy relationships with my spouse and family. Not too much to bite off and chew on, right? The stairs seem never-ending, and I’m reminded of this platitude I used to spout to my high school classes: “The only constant in life is change.”
However, the good news is that we can alter our course if we learn to work on what we can control and try to concentrate on the sphere of influence we do have, even if limited.
The first thing we have to learn is that having a back up plan is as important as the original plan.
If this year has taught us anything as a collective humanity, it’s that we must be armed and ready to write a new itinerary and prepare for what’s behind mystery door number three when it decides to open unexpectedly. While I pride myself on my sometimes-spontaneity, when it comes to the balls that I juggle on the daily, I err on the side of pre-planning and a good routine, which can keep me out of a one-way-ticket to Anxietyland. I think this is how to break away from the futility of going nowhere, and begin to gain ground. It may be as simple as prepping for tomorrow the night before, or getting out the door ten minutes early, or knowing which one of us adults is taking sick duty ahead of time, so we aren’t frantic when we have to call in. I was listening to one of my favorite morning DJs tell a story of her weekend melee, and how her 7yr old had packed an emergency bag full of what every mom’s Mary Poppins purse has these days, and actually fed his little sister, band-aided his Dad when a cut came up, and prepared a small arsenal of car entertainment to while away the minutes during the trip to the grocery store and other errands. The woman said he took better care of the family than she did, because he was prepared for every eventuality. That’s what we have to do, and though it makes us sound a bit like the ultimate merit badge emblazoned MacGyver of a Boy Scout, it is what must be done. Less whining about 2020, more winning.
The other saving grace that is often underrated—the time saver, friend of the frugal, and helper of the forgetful—-is the trusty ol’ checklist. For those fancy folk, its other cousin is the “to-do” list.
Let’s be honest—if even Saint Nick has to check his twice so the wrong kid doesn’t get coal, then what does that teach us about avoiding the down staircase of being ill-prepared? Check(list) yourself before you wreck yourself, right? There’s satisfaction in ticking off the boxes and a sense of accomplishment, too. It may just be for what we have to divvy up and do on a rainy Saturday so we aren’t three steps back and drowning in a maelstrom of laundry, but it does a lot to creating order from chaos. If you’re into office supplies like me, even a fancily decorated notepad livens up the list.
As the year’s escalator descends towards 2021, what I also have to do to keep moving forward is to make myself recognize the steps I’ve had on the up staircase.
The last national holiday is a constant reminder of blessings, but it shouldn’t just be a once-a-year, around the dinner table, cutting the turkey and sharing the pie kind of moment. Every day has its share of blessings, even if they’re small, and this is one of the monumental shifts in getting off the down staircase.
Start with the mundane, because it’s the part we take for granted the most. Move on to what’s outside your window, or the thing waiting just outside the door. Stretch out your arms and find the blessings in having a loved one to hold. I found that one easily, through the bedtime and wake up routine that grants me a few precious moments with my children and husband. Once you’ve realized you’ve been loaded down with little gifts, then reach bigger heights.
When you stand on the threshold of the new year, turning your face backward to glance at the one we are slowly turning the page of, you’ll realize that, even though stairs go down, you can choose to walk up.
It’s all in how you step.