Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on. — Buddha Chaos breeds life, when order breeds habit. — Henry Adams When tempest tossed, embrace chaos. — Dean Koontz
My house is a shambles. Three times last night I either tripped or stubbed a toe on something that didn’t used to be where it currently is. Junk proliferates, and my vision of orderly packed boxes and neat piles of “to donate”, “to friends”, and “to the dumpster” dissipates. Just being with, and among, this chaos exhausts me before I even begin to work at bringing some order to it in the few hours I’m snatching back from the dinners and coffees that we’re cramming into these “last days”.
Two nights ago, I sat in my living room maniacally sorting through thousands of buttons – feeling like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned.
And that is just on the level of “what am I doing with all my stuff?!” The chaos is threatening to overwhelm me on an emotional level, too. After nineteen years in the same job, seventeen of which have been as a “live in”/”live on” staff member, the process of separation is really strange. For example, I had no trouble parting with files and piles of paper in my office. One day of concerted effort filled both the document destruction bin and several recycling receptacles. On the other hand, I’ve been slow to complete the work that needs doing before I leave – a pared down list of “final” things. Then there’s the commemoration of my longevity and the celebration of my impact on the campus which is sweet, poignant, and at times a little like listening to myself being eulogized. When it feels too surreal, I have to go walkabout – lots of extra visits to the chapel and the coffee shop in order to maintain emotional equilibrium.
In addition to kind words and amazing memories, I routinely get one or the other of these comments: “I’m so jealous” or “Congratulations on your retirement.” Both feel completely understandable while, at the same time, leaving me at a loss for what might be both an appropriate and kind response. By my calculations, and with what all of the prognosticators say about the increasing retirement age, I have a full two decades of work left. So I laugh (if with a slight hysteria) at the retirement comments.
The comments about jealousy are harder. It doesn’t feel like this place I’m in is a somewhere others want to be – uncertain, unknown, unplanned. Frankly, those who are most emphatic about their jealousy are in the best positions to be here without the narrow financial margin I’ll be balancing upon, which makes it incredibly difficult not to call them out – tell them they CAN be here, they just don’t choose to be. On the other hand, I understand their comments – it has been freeing in a manner I can’t describe to have put an end date on this particular stage of my life.
On the other hand…I find myself wanting to use this phrase to begin most sentences these days. The current level of chaos in my life lends itself to so many possibilities, I picture myself looking like one of the many-handed Hindu deities. On one hand, this. On the other hand, that. And on the other, other hand, something entirely different. Interestingly, Kali, the goddess whose name came up when I googled ‘many-handed Hindu deities’ is the goddess of Time and Change. Time feels in short supply right now, while I have a bumper crop of change to manage. And the only way I know how to do that is to lean into it, to borrow a recently popular term.
Leaning in to change, to chaos, can be both a daunting and an empowering experience. Some people have lauded my courage in taking this leap of faith – I feel less courageous and more like I’m whistling in the dark, hence “daunting”. But I do feel empowered, as well. For maybe the first time in my life the choices I am making are not being made out of fear or a need to control things in order to feel safe. I don’t feel safe. But I do feel right, somehow, as if this is the right thing to do at the right time to do it. Which lends a certain peace to the chaos that is my life right now – like the calm in the eye of a tornado or hurricane. The maelstrom is happening, and sometimes I’m whirled up in it and trying to relax enough not to be hurt by the buffeting. But in other moments, I experience the “rightness” at the center. And that feels empowering.
We live in a rainbow of chaos. — Paul Cezanne