When circumstances grind the rhythm of our lives to a halt, we desperately seek to “get back: into the swing of things; on track; in the saddle.” These well-worn sayings speak to times of desperately living out of sync with our dreams and aspirations, and even our simple daily routines. We literally feel out of step with, side-lined, or even thrown to the ground by life.
Illness can be one of the culprits that interrupt our existential rhythm. For me it has been vision issues. I have undergone two very trying medical procedures, one on my left cornea and the other back-to-back cataract surgeries. Reclaiming, and even reinventing, my rhythm was difficult after each event as each posed a challenge to both my work and personal life, nearly sidelining me when my healing took a long time. I am very much a visual learner, and reading and writing are an integral part of my various jobs as an academic librarian, teacher, and writer. Reading and writing are almost as essential as breathing to me, so when they became difficult I was challenged to my core. The skills I had always depended on were momentarily insufficient, and so I had to develop new coping strategies, and I discovered it couldn’t do it alone.
We literally feel out of step with, side-lined, or even thrown to the ground by life.
When I think of “getting back into the swing of things,” I see the very act of swinging as a metaphor for life: highs and lows, resistance and release, exhilaration and a touch of fear, quite literally hurtling into the air, but with support. Even now I can’t resist a playground swing set, and if the seat fits, I’ll indulge in a swing just to challenge my adult equilibrium and get a case of the golly-wobbles that makes me laugh in spite of myself. And I can’t help but fondly recall one particular swing from my childhood because it functioned best with a partner.
Growing up in the farmlands of Western New York permitted most families the space to have a swing. For some it may have been an old tire suspended from a sturdy branch. For us it was the “some assembly required” set that no doubt challenged my father’s engineering abilities. It was the deluxe model: two regular swings, a two-seater sling glider, and a four-person lawn swing. A tall green slide from my brother’s childhood stood alongside the swing set and an area under the white birch was cleared out for an open sand box. I basically had my very own playground on my front lawn. But I dearly coveted what my best friend and next-door neighbor, Linda, had.
Her father built their swing set from scratch using pipes, chains, and wood from area hardware stores and lumber yards. It was only five swings and each one had a family member’s name painted on the main supporting pipe above. But everything about it was bigger. It was taller than mine so I could swing much higher. The seats were wooden, always an agreeable temperature, and deeper so I could sit farther back which, for my long legs, meant not getting them jammed into the ground when I swung forward. But to me the best feature was the one swing with the double-wide seat on which you could sit side-by-side with someone. We could swing facing the same way, but Linda and I found that by facing opposite directions we went faster and higher much more quickly.
When I think of “getting back into the swing of things,” I see the very act of swinging as a metaphor for life: highs and lows, resistance and release, exhilaration and a touch of fear, quite literally hurtling into the air, but with support.
During this past year what should have been routine cataract surgeries were interrupted by illnesses, and so for close to two months I was functioning with two very different eyes: one near-sighted and one far-sighted, and my old prescription no longer addressed either problem. It was also at that time that I was asked to undertake a new work assignment, one that I had waited a long time for. I was invited into a graduate-level class to instruct the students in better research methods. Barely able to see a computer screen in front of me, I accepted. And as much as I wanted to be the shining star and hero of the moment, I set my professional pride aside and asked my brand-new boss to help me. She had had teaching experience at her previous position and had expressed a desire to return to the classroom. She agreed and together we made a great impression, not only with the students but also with the professor.
2012 saw a genuine walk of faith. A procedure to my left cornea left my vision in that eye very blurry as it healed. And I didn’t heal as quickly as the doctor anticipated. At that same time I was offered an opportunity to teach an academic writing class at the local Roman Catholic seminary, and desperately didn’t want to turn this offer down. But I’m old enough to realize that there are times when you have to be completely honest with yourself and others. Praying about it every step of the way, I expressed my concerns to one of the coordinators of this project who also was a good friend of mine. Each time I handed it over to God, He literally gave it back to me; for each time I revealed a limitation to Kathy, she found a way around it. My doctor, too, began a course of eye drops which hastened my healing. I went on to spend four of the most professionally exhilarating months of my teaching career.
Like that wonderful double-seater swing from my childhood, both scenarios taught me that despite feeling desperately derailed by circumstances, by humbly acknowledging my limitations, trusting in others, and always turning to God, I’ve been able to indeed get “back into the swing” of things when I had all but despaired of ever finding my essential self again.