A few years ago, I was catching up with a friend. When he asked the inevitable, “So. What are you up to these days?” I bumbled about. Trying to make it sound as if I had life under control. That my ducks were in a nice neat row. But there was no faking it and this was a dear friend so I told him the truth, “I’m standing at the edge of a roundabout and have absolutely no idea which way to go.”
At the time I was between gigs and enviously watching everyone else in the roundabout whoosh around at high speeds. All of them knew exactly where they were going and which path to take. And there I was, standing on the edge, sure about nothing, worried about everything, and waiting for a perfect moment to jump in.
As a kid, I don’t recall worrying about jumping in at the perfect moment. Move in rhythm with the rope as it goes around then instinctively make the leap. It wasn’t always perfect but it was always fun. And sure. Eventually the rope would tangle around my feet and I’d have to stop and start again. But that never bothered me.
Today it makes me wonder when it was that I began to care about getting tangled up. When did stopping and starting again begin to bother me? I can’t pinpoint the exact time and can only imagine that it must have happened about the time the stakes changed. When the game changed from jumping rope to navigating life.
My friend hesitated then said, “Catherine, the solution is where you stand. All you have to do is reach down and pick it up.”
“Could it really be right next to me?” I thought. I felt the tingles of hope but was afraid. I didn’t want to be disappointed. And this is why we must listen to our friends. Because they know the truth. I took a deep breath and looked down. There it was. Right where I left it. This incredibly gorgeous and weathered leather carrying case. Safely holding in one spot all of the tools I’d accumulated over the years. The buckle holes were stretched and there were some new scratches. But the leather was as soft as it had always been.
I knelt down and opened the case. There were crayons and paints of all colors. Scraps of fabrics and textiles I had gathered over the years. Rocks and handfuls of sand collected from special places. There were new power tools for big jobs and antique tools for those jobs that required a special touch. In the pockets were troves of ideas and lots of snacks. And in one hidden interior pocket, there was a list of people I had met along the way and could call for help at any time. Each item in the bag was etched with the memories of challenges faced, successes achieved, and the many not so successful endeavors that had taken me in directions I never imagined.
I thanked my friend, picked up the case, and let instinct guide my leap back into the roundabout. For a few years, I whooshed about at high speeds. Until recently, I found myself standing on the edge of the roundabout once again. But this time I had a firm grasp on the solution. And this time I understood that when people whoosh, it doesn’t always mean they know where they are going. I also understood that sometimes we need to stand still, if only to catch our breath.
These days I’m staying on the edge of the roundabout. I’ve opened my case and spread all of its contents out before me. I’m drawing with the paints and crayons, blending new colors, mixing textiles, and letting the rocks and sand fall through my fingers. I’m learning how to use these tools and ideas I’ve collected over the years. I’m reaching out to those on the list, spending time with friends, and making new ones. And I’m enjoying some of the snacks.
From time to time I look up from the messes I’m making and see what I didn’t see the last time I was here. That there are many of us who stand at the edge of the roundabout from time to time. Sometimes by choice and other times because the roundabout spit us out. No matter the reason, it comforts me to know I am not alone. It also comforts me to know that we must stand still. And not just to breathe. But also to explore and create new possibilities before taking that instinctive leap once again.