This morning’s weather forecast warned of high winds tomorrow. The warning created a picture in my mind of gale-force air currents racing through the world, raising tides and lending wings to anything not tied down.
Wind is a funny thing. It can be gentle, cooling the fevered brow. It can be exciting as it chases clouds across the sky, whipping branches and rocking trees. It can also be destructive. Think hurricanes and cyclones and tornadoes, spreading carnage in their wake.
The strangest thing about this sometimes friendly, sometimes lethal force of nature is that it is weightless and utterly invisible. But even without the advantages of mass or visibility, the wind attracts all of our senses. We can witness its passage everywhere. Our eyes see it lifting litter and making the aforementioned trees dance and bow. Our ears hear it whistle or howl, and we can certainly feel both its lightest or its most aggressive touch. Standing in the wind gives you a sense of things happening. A world on the move.
Compare this to a stagnant day, when the absence of the slightest gust or current creates a sense of airlessness. All around, not a blade of grass moves or leaf quivers. The world seems to press down on you, leaving you sluggish. The scene may be peaceful, but it can also feel suffocating. Without wind, all seems lifeless.
The wind infuses a scene with animation. Where there is wind, there is motion. And where there is motion, there is life.
Need I say that this is a perfect analogy for the human condition?
There are times in life when a person may feel as if he’s an object in a still-life picture. While the world around him goes on doing what the world always does, he is unmoving. There are many things that can bring on such a feeling.
One of them is trauma or grief. Great suffering or loss fixes the individual in place, as sorrow wraps both arms around him in a too-tight bear hug. For some, survivor’s guilt can magnify the grief, tying the emotional ropes even tighter. The force of these feelings can hold a person rigidly in the same spot for a long time. Sometimes, too long. The past turns into an anchor, holding him down. Keeping him from moving on.
If the past can lock a person up, so can fear of the future. How many people have you known who are afraid to leave a job they despise because they’re afraid that they may not find a better one?
They can see the past. They are suffering in the present. But the future is unknowable, and therefore frightening. Fear can slide our feet into cement shoes that lock us firmly in place. We’re afraid to take a step out of our comfort zone. Afraid to move on.
If fear can prevent a person from changing jobs, how much more so does it have the power to hold him back from making an entire career switch, when he realizes that he was mistaken in the one he chose. A woman I once sat next to at an event seemed troubled. As we started talking, she told me that her son, in his final semester of a long and grueling doctoral program, had just decided to drop out and become a life coach instead. While I sympathized with the mother’s frustration, I had to admire that young man’s guts. That was one brave kid!
Unfortunately, not everyone shares it. The landscape of the future is dotted with question-marks, thick as leaves in the fall. It can be hard to find the courage to leave the safe and familiar behind… even when the safe and familiar is completely unsatisfying.
On an even more serious plane, we find individuals who have great difficulty in making a commitment for marriage. Again, it’s fear of making a mistake that could impact his future happiness that holds him back.
We all want to be happy. Even more, we want a guarantee that our decisions will take us in that direction. Since such a guarantee isn’t available, we have two choices. We can either take our courage in both hands and step into the future anyway, with hope in our hearts and a prayer on our lips. Or we can put on those cement shoes and stay right where we are.
The decision is ours to make, and it can be a difficult one. What we may fail to take into account is the simple fact that it’s better to move on than to stagnate. Moving ahead into an uncertain future is preferable to sinking into quicksand.
When I meet a young woman who’s fretting over the fact that all of her dates have thus far led exactly nowhere, I will sometimes share this thought with her: it’s better to move than not to move. Of course she’d rather meet Mr. Right sooner rather than later. Certainly, it’s no fun to go on first date after first date with a stranger who is not your bashert. But at least there’s forward movement, and that has to be a good thing.
Because movement is life.
An Un-Still Life
Most difficult of all is when a person wants to move on but is denied the possibility of doing so. It’s neither the chains of the past nor fear of the future that’s fixing her in place. Her dearest wish is to move speedily ahead into the next stage of life… but it’s just not happening.
For such a person, the pain of waiting can make her feel as if she’s standing on a windless plain, gasping for breath. As if she’s sitting still while the whole world is rushing past. The absence of the wind of motion keeps her mired in a stagnant pool of longing.
Times like these are when we need to limit our focus on the outside and make sure that there’s plenty of forward movement on the inside. Even if everything seems to be standing still for us externally, our minds, hearts and spirits can create a beautiful inner whirlwind of learning and growing.
Hashem is inscrutable. He has His plan for each of us, and we have no way of knowing when our yeshuos will come. But the command to choose life means that we must generate internal forward movement when it isn’t generated for us on the outside. While we wait, we mustn’t let the winds die down. Stagnating is not an option. If our outer world remains stubbornly small, it’s even more urgent that we continue to grow on the inside.
We need to let the refreshing winds of wonder and curiosity keep our minds alert and our hearts overflowing. While we wait for the sprawl of a new horizon, we can stretch ourselves on the inside, spiritually and emotionally. Just because our feet are temporarily encased in cement does not mean that our inner world can’t roam free.
The more it does, the richer we’ll be on the inside, where it counts. So that we’ll be readier than ever for the outside salvation when it comes.
The important thing is to never stop moving. Outside or in, we need to keep those winds of change and growth always blowing.
Because wind is motion… and motion is life.