It’s hurricane central here. Like good mid-Atlantic folks who are unaccustomed to and unprepared for any type of natural disaster, we promptly lose our collective minds whenever a natural disaster looms. The Weather Channel has been on for 48 hours straight. We have a pantry full of shelf-stable items and flashlights stocked with fresh batteries. Every conversation I’ve had in the last three days has involved Hurricane Sandy in some way. We are darn ready for this hurricane.
But here’s the thing. It hasn’t started raining yet.
Everyone here has spent spent the day alternating between the television and the window. Watching radar maps, pressing our noses against the glass to watch the clouds roll in. Watching meteorologists with microphones get blown about by gale-force winds (We all believe you that it’s windy outside, Jim Cantore. Now will you please go be safe and seek cover?), checking the window again to see if the rain has started yet.
Now, I realize the rain is coming. I’m watching the radar map show our little town in a tiny cove of stillness, surrounded by a massive splotch of green and yellow steadily moving toward us. I’m not denying the forecasts of the strong storm a-comin’.
What I’m saying is — today was beautiful. And I missed it.
I happened to glance up for one moment today while we were moving outdoor furniture. The skies were gray, but the clouds raced so quickly it was like watching a time-lapse video. Rich autumn leaves were whipped around by wind that crackled with pre-storm energy. I glanced, I noticed, I went back to my business.
I was too caught up in anticipating the storm to notice the beauty of right now.
So often, this is how I live my life. I pour massive amounts of energy into anticipating the storm. My mind churns with what ifs - from the petty to the ridiculous - like the ocean in a hurricane. What if that funny knock in the engine means my car’s going to break down? What if I lose someone I love? What if this headache is actually a brain tumor?
I spend so much time trying to get out in front of the sadness and the pain. Like I’m trying to beat it to the punch. I figure that if I’ve already anticipated all of the potential pain from an undesired event, then by the time the pain gets here, I’ll be ready. I have envisioned all of the possible ways this scenario could go wrong so that if it goes right, I’ll be pleasantly surprised – and if it doesn’t when it happens, it’s been-there-done-that.
(It’s like Tina Fey says in Bossypants about the time her honeymoon cruise was alerted of a possible ship fire. When the crew tells the passengers that everything’s fine, she refuses to believe them. “While people around me start to relax,” she says, “I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I’m ready for it to happen and that way it won’t happen. It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.”)
But I remembered today that this anxiety, this “what-if”ing,…it doesn’t actually change anything. Except the fact that I’m too busy imagining the worst to notice the joy of the right-now. Most of my worries are outlandish fabrications of my min. The only purpose they serve is to distract me from real beauty. And if the pain is, in fact, really coming, the dread of anticipation is only stealing from the joy to give to the pain.
Of course, we should prepare for the storms. Denial is just as unhealthy as obsessive anxiety. Just like stocking the pantry and buying batteries is just plain common sense, building your support systems and creating rituals of self-care is good, responsible preparation for rough times ahead. But stocking the pantry is different from being glued to the television. We can prepare and engage joy. We can’t obsess and engage joy.
As the storm is finally rolling in this evening, I’m deciding not to waste another day anticipating the storm. Life is too beautiful to live inside the suffocating stories of my mind.
And I cannot resist ending with this song, discovered last week through my new blogging friend Anna. Appropriate in so many ways…