It landed on my soul’s sunlit altar like a singing telegram, a complete and precise little package of wisdom:
“It’s okay to stop looking.”
I instantly felt lighter. It was easier to breathe.
Last Saturday I bought a round trip bus ticket to NYC, leaving in my bank account fewer bucks than could possibly string me along till next payday. But I wanted to be there. The hugest march in the name of climate change was happening on Sunday. I had to be there.
So. After rushing around for hours to get ready for what was surely one of the more providential trips in my life, I missed the bus. I then proceeded to try and beat said bus to its next stop in Durham. Moving targets are hard to catch. Hauling a ton of soil in your pickup doesn’t help. I missed again.
And you know what? I felt a weird and hesitant sense of relief.
For the first time all day—or, in several days—I slowed down. I stopped. I sat on the hood of my truck in a parking lot and watched. Mostly people. Did they know? Did they care?
A man walking to his own car paused, looked up at the sky for a spacious moment that seemed to last forever, then drove away. He stepped into that endless river of people, places and things falling away, disappearing from my sight and possession. His participation in my existence was fleeting, but beautiful.
In this time of outright ecological collapse, some of us feel an urgency to attend to things before it’s too late. It feels as if we’re running out of time. And in some sense, we are. The paradox is that this urgency, this tendency to rush forward is what got us into our predicament in the first place. It’s by seeking after moving targets that we get trapped on the treadmill of forgetfulness. We forget to mind what’s happening underfoot. We forget how completely it all flows from the present.
“It’s okay to stop looking.”
Looking, seeking, longing, chasing… how much of life is a race with no finish line? Whether the moving target’s a bus, an unrealistic goal, or a person… It’s so relieving to know I can stop. A kind of shift occurs when we permit ourselves to do so. Sometimes, it’s only by ceasing to look that we are able to find.
As kids we’re told to just sit still and stay put if we ever get lost. It makes it easier for others to find us if we ourselves aren’t a moving target. Sometimes it’s only by ceasing to look that we can be found.
Stillness, along with star-gazing men in parking lots, remind me to come back home. They remind me to move slowly and deliberately. To acknowledge the forgetting that rushed us onto this terrifying ecological precipice, as the same forgetting that keeps so many of us trapped in suffering. How can I — how can we — save the planet if we can’t save ourselves?
It takes a kind of courage to just share sorrowful upward glances with a stranger as he floats away. It takes a kind of courage to accept human civilization, too, as an iceberg-bound ship just passing in the night. My work, I think, is to bless it instead of anchoring it to urgency. To know that something sacred and fleeting has happened, to love it, and to let it go.