I remember about 30 years ago, on the cusp of adult life, wandering through a supermarket with a friend who was shopping. I had no money; I was on the dole and it was the day before “giro day”. My money had run out three days before, my food had run out the day before. I was unable – Scottish small town Protestant upbringing to thank for that – to ask for help, for food. My friend had not asked why I wasn’t buying anything or why I was so quiet. All around me the sights and smells of food had my stomach in turmoil. I wasn’t poor, I had a family I could get help from if needed – a safety net. My hunger pangs would subside the next day when I picked up my dole. I had no sense that this period just before the years of a series of shitty jobs and exciting social whirl that would usher me in too less shitty jobs and less exciting social whirl and eventually motherhood and into, and back out, a career, was in any way my path, my slippery slope. There was no sense that this in fact was the slippery slope, the path to the abyss from which there could be no escape. No sense that this was utterly out of my control, or that I was without choice or opportunity for change.
My father’s family while by no means monied were solidly middle class. My mother’s family Glasgow ‘respectable working class’ that lived frugally, prided themselves on the solid council houses with gardens they had recently left the Gorbals for, thought conservatively, and went to Church every Sunday. I was hungry and sorry for myself, but not despondent. This was a blip. But I never forgot that blip. I’d remember it in 1992, on a beach near Split in Croatia watching a group of refugees fishing in the sea while the Balkans were on fire and I readied myself for another Kafkaesque day wandering the endless faceless halls of the Split customs office trying to get permission to release a shipment of heavy engineering goods the aid operation I was working for was taking to Tuzla in northern Bosnia. I would remember it not long after that too, walking out of a neurologists office having just been told I had MS already starting the process of denial that would have me back there 6 months later being retold of my diagnosis.
There are moments that let us see our slippery slope and walk away. There are moments that let us see other’s on their slippery slope and walk away. There are moments when we know we have met ours and there is no walking away. However in each the sense of fragility, and weakness, that pervades us stands in such stark contrast to the world of “Bigger!”, “Transformative!”, “Innovative!”.
Everyday we wander through a world urging us to be the best we can be, to climb the ladder, to be ‘something’ (anything, as long as it is something). The finiteness of ‘better’ eludes us, the cost to others eludes us. But more importantly, the cost to self eludes too. Caught in a web of insatiable longing to be something (I’ve known many “someones” for whom their power and status has failed completely to satisfy the need to be special, better, best) we flutter against that trap unaware that we are losing the ability to just be. Though we may have some unease at the loss of ‘just being’, those nagging fears (I am not enough, I am not something) blind us to our inability to connect to others, to see the world as others see it, to be calm and still in our lives. Groups, families, organisations, all can be consumed by the fires of something-ness. Things fall apart, as Yeats said, in the flames of something-ness. Love, compassion, kindness, all that gets lost in something-ness.
Perhaps we are just afraid of the alternative? Perhaps we falsely reason that the opposite of somethingness would be nothingness? Perhaps we forgot that being with, being here, is more important that being something? So at the end of another fun, frustrating and energising week at work, I come home and stop, and watch the clouds, and remind myself that to be something is not the point of being here, and not what we lose when the slippery slope cannot be avoided. Being, not being something, that is the point. Being is what we lose at the end of the slippery slope, not being something. Being with, being here, that is where peace, and calm, and love are found. Being, that is where we truly find each other. Being, that is where we find ourselves.