Do you remember that character in the Flintstones, Shleprock, who walked around under a literal rain cloud? He was unhappy and miserable, and a tiny thundercloud hovered over his head, raining constantly on him. “Woe is me,” he whined. “Oh, woe is me.”
Have you known people like this in real life? People who bring with them, wherever they go, a low rumble of the earthquake. It seems that just beneath the surface, something is about to manifest in a big way, collapsing bridges, taking down buildings, splitting streets. Deep, unrealized, anger follows them about.
Others bring a sense of the whirlwind. Never still, always a frenzy. The room wakes up when they enter, they bring energy and chaos. When they leave, you breathe a sigh of relief but also kind of miss that they were here to wake you up.
Or maybe someone brings a quality of the spring rain – not the persistent sadness of the shleprocks in our life, but the quality of growth, of possibility. A sense that, around them, small things can emerge from the rich, deep brown soil, unfurl and spread their branches.
Some people are unhappy with the silence. They rise in the morning and reach for the TV remote, filling their space with sound. As they travel to/from work, they fill their ears with podcasts. At their desk during the day, their feet are tapping and they are never still, always doing something. When they return home, again they reach for the remote. And they end their day asleep on the couch, or with their phone under their pillow, depending on audio books or the Constitution to help them sleep. What are they afraid they will hear if they turn off the noise?
I live in a noisy city. Even in the middle of the night when, in other places, you can hear the stillness, maybe the sound of the water on the shore or spring peepers or the far-off dog barking, the city speaks. Traffic hums like rain and, from my apartment, the sound of the cooling system at the U.N., blocks away, provides a constant background noise.
As I walk through the city, my attention is captured by reflections. Sometimes it is the stillness of a reflecting pool in Madison Park or the Meer. The light-shadows that move across tall unbroken brick expanses of buildings, reflections from the shiny windows across the street. Even real shadows, reflected onto the path of the Highline, capturing passers-by.
These reflections capture moments of stillness, moments of respite in an otherwise busy day.
People, when they visit my office often remark on how calm it feels there. Soft music, soft light, yes. I cultivate this sense of peace in my workspace for my own sake and for the sake of those I work with. Work is often energetic, rushed, and you find yourself carried along, carried like the autumn leaf from point to point on energy outside your control. It’s helpful to have a place to retreat to, a place where, for a moment, you can reflect on the work you’re doing at a different level, choose responses deliberately, before plunging back into the fray of execution. “The chairs in your office are so comfortable,” someone remarked yesterday, sinking into the one beside my desk; she had been racing all day. Was the chair that comfortable really? Or was it just that it felt good to lay down her burden for a few minutes before picking it up again.
It’s helpful to sit in the eye of the storm for awhile, to catch a breath before the eye passes and you find yourself back in the tearing winds of the hurricane again.
What weather are you carrying with you?