VIEW VIDEO One of my favorite things in our local newspaper, The Republican, is the yesteryear column that recalls local news from decades ago. This week’s column reminded readers that in 1971 all my family but me went to Vincennes to celebrate my sister’s birthday, dredging up yet another painful memory of childhood exclusion. I took a picture of the column and texted it to my siblings, asking them, “Why didn’t I go to Vincennes with all of you?” My brother Glenn texted back, “Because you’re adopted.” He’s told me this my entire life and I’ve never believed it, though now I can’t help but wonder.
Despite the potential for ridicule, I enjoy the yesteryear column. Just this week I was reminded that 43 years ago tomorrow, on March 22, 1978, the high wire walker Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the Flying Wallendas, died after falling from a high wire. He was 73 years-old, which was too old to be monkeying around on high wires, but good luck telling some men they’re too old to do something. I remember when it happened, because Wallenda was the same age as my grandfather Hank who scolded me for saying Wallenda was too old to be walking on a wire 120 feet above the street. “You’re only as old as you think you are,” Grandpa told me, right up until Wallenda lost his balance and fell to his death. After that, Grandpa didn’t have much to say. Nor, for that matter, did Karl Wallenda.
Karl Wallenda lost his balance. Isn’t that an interesting turn of phrase? I remember losing my balance once. I was pastoring full-time, cranking out books, traveling non-stop and never seeing my family until I ended up on a therapist’s couch, quitting my pastoral job and staying home so much that after a while Joan said, “Don’t you have to give a speech somewhere?”
The thing is, once you’ve lost your balance, then regained it, you realize that keeping your balance is a work in progress. You don’t just regain your balance, then keep it forever with no further effort. Life, in fact, is a balancing act.
Last week, we turned our thoughts to the habits of wholeness─those customs, patterns, and behaviors that help us become what we were created to become. Today, I’d like us to think about the habit of balance. By balance I mean giving each aspect of life its proper weight, place and priority, lest we lose our sense of equilibrium and collapse. I use the word collapse intentionally, because in my experience that is precisely what happens when our lives are out of balance. Eventually, something collapses, perhaps a significant relationship, one’s mental well-being, one’s happiness, or one’s vocation. When we are out of balance, something always fails. For many of us, this failure or collapse is sometimes the first indication our life is unbalanced. We have gained some temporary benefit by our imbalance so are slow to recognize its hazards or costs. Whether that temporary benefit is wealth or prestige or ego fulfillment or power or the admiration of others. But it feels good, so we persist in our unbalanced behavior because it pays off, until it doesn’t.
Until it doesn’t, then we collapse or fall. But that doesn’t have to happen, because there are usually signs or signals that our lives are out of kilter. I know when I become persistently angry, that it probably means I haven’t spent enough time by myself in quiet reflection. If I am physically exhausted, it usually means I have neglected rest, exercise and fresh air. If I am spiritually fatigued, it usually means I have become too cynical and pessimistic and am spending time with people who wear me out instead of people who inspire me. If I catch myself exaggerating my success or accomplishments, it usually means my ego has eclipsed my morality and I need to reassess my priorities.
But why do we have to wait until our lives are near collapse before we act? Why can’t we act now to bring needed and healthy balance to our lives? Here are some thoughts. If all your waking hours are spent pursuing wealth, perhaps it is time you volunteered to help others. If all your meals are rushed, perhaps you should savor an unhurried meal with friends and family, provided they’ve been immunized. If you are around negative people day in and day out, it would be wise to spend time with happy, healthy people. If you are suffering from depression, it might be prudent to see a doctor, talk to a therapist, begin an exercise program, adopt a pet, volunteer to help someone else, spend more time outside, plant a garden, clean your house, renew a meaningful relationship, lessen your screen time, or listen to music. Just a thought.
My mind has been returning to Vincennes this week, remembering our family trips there when I was a kid. My grandmother Gulley was somewhat persnickety and didn’t like me to touch her things, with one exception. She owned a wood and brass postage scale, which she would place on her kitchen table and let me weigh things. It had four little brass weights – 2 oz, 1 ounce, ½ ounce, and a ¼ ounce. I loved playing with that scale, seeing if I could strike a perfect balance and get the needle pointing to dead center. Ah, there’s another interesting word, centered. Maybe that’s what balance is, centered.
My grandmother died in 1989 and after her funeral we all gathered at her house to clean it up and get it ready to sell. My aunt Doris held up Grandma’s postage scale and asked if anyone wanted it. No one did but me, so now it sits in my office, on the shelves beside my desk, as a reminder of balance. Whenever Madeline comes into my office, it’s the first thing she heads for, so I’m hoping she’ll learn balance too.
Religion, at its best, is concerned with balance. We Quaker call it being centered or living from the Center. I have a Pentecostal friend who speaks of being in the Spirit and a Chinese acquaintance who quotes the I Ching about the dynamic balance of opposites. We have the language for it. What remains to be seen is whether we have the aptitude for it, for without it, we can never be whole.