A Balancing Act

A Balancing Act March 20, 2013

Happy Spring Equinox! (Unless you happen to live in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case I’d like to wish you a delightful Fall Equinox.) The equinox, of course, is the moment of the year when the light and the dark are in perfect balance, with equal parts day and night. Legend has it that on the moment of the spring equinox it is possible to balance an egg on its end. Science would point out that there’s no reason to believe the truth of this legend—it’s not as if gravity is somehow arranged differently on the equinox, but still…the equinox is a time for relating to the whole idea of balance.

Which, Lord knows, we could all use. Most of us are struggling to find the balance between our work life and our home life, the balance between our children’s needs and our own, the balance between activism and acceptance, between being here now and working for a better tomorrow. And those struggles are never going to go away. The only way to find balance is through a constant series of adjustments, tipping the egg ever so slightly this way and that in the vain hope of finding the balance point where everything is right.

It’s never easy, and sometimes it’s heartbreaking. I am thinking of my friend Lisa, who is struggling with finding the balance of when or whether to have her dog put down. Euthanizing a pet is almost always a heart-wrenching decision, and in this case the dog is young, sweet, and seemingly healthy. But the medications which have controlled the dog’s seizures for some time have stopped working, and so at any moment this lovely animal can go from running or playing or snuggling on the couch to cluster seizures that leave her traumatized and cause progressive brain damage. My friend has been diligent in trying to find a solution, and two different vets have agreed that there is none, that the seizures will return, and that they will be fatal, although not for some time down the road. And so Lisa is trying to balance her love for the dog against the burden of 24/7 care for an animal who may be stricken at any time. She is trying to balance the enjoyment the dog gets from every walk, every ride in the car, every scratch behind the ear against the fear and confusion and suffering of seizures that can come at any time. And there isn’t a perfect balance point. There isn’t any way of knowing what exactly is the right thing to do, when exactly is the right time to let go.

Any more than there is a way to know when or whether it is the right time to leave the father of your children, or when or whether it is the right time to tell your young adult child that they have to leave your home, or when or whether to put your frail and fading mother in a nursing home. There is no way to know the right answer, but there is also no way to avoid the decision, since inaction is as much of a choice as action. Doing the right thing, the perfect thing, is as much of a fantasy as balancing an egg.

Which, it turns out, you can do. Any day, not just on the equinox. It takes some patience, and a delicate touch, but it can be done. You start with the determination to balance what seems impossible to balance, and you find a steady base for your balancing act: I don’t want my pet to suffer. My child needs to learn independence. My mother needs care that I can’t give her. And then you lean the egg just the tiniest bit left and right, searching for a sweet spot that will hold: I can give my dog one more perfect day. I can pay for my adult child’s health insurance, and a security deposit on an apartment. I can make sure that mom’s favorite pictures go with her to the home, which will be close enough for me to visit regularly. Never the perfect answer, or at least never an answer that comes with the guarantee that nothing more or better could be done. But an answer, a choice, a balancing place.

The equinox doesn’t offer us the perfect resting spot where we can be assured that all is right. It offers us spring and growth and change. It reminds us that the perfect resolution for an egg is not to balance on its end, but rather to crack open entirely, so that the chick inside can emerge.


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