There is a place that is curious to me. It is at the same time very busy and very needed, but seemingly very unproductive and also can be very frustrating. It is controlled and has many rules that need followed, but is seemingly capricious and arbitrary for the way it is put into effect and the ones involved have little to say about it. These areas above an airport are used for holding patterns. It is what happens when there is too much traffic for the ground crews to get planes put in place and taken care of. It happens to keep things moving, take care of the needy and hold out the last ones in the pattern unless there are mitigating circumstances.
Think about it like a rainbow Jello salad. The whip cream on top is the high clouds and this is where the last one to arrive starts. The layers then become progressive as the planes make circles in a very wide radius around the hub. They are similar to the spiral ham and keep getting closer to the bottom. Ever moving but going nowhere. Always in the same danger of the normal flight but never in much danger of crashing into the next plane as long as they all pirouette as told.
There are lots of reasons for this holding pattern like simple traffic spikes at hub airports during the frenetic combinations of connections needing to be made. But there are others as well, like when a critical flight is in-bound by a President and all other traffic is held until they have de-planed. Or there is a bad storm at one airport and traffic is altered to a different airport, suddenly stacking up traffic until it is processed. These are both understood and accepted, partly as the course of things, but there is a need to keep the information flowing the same as the traffic. It is what takes place when the information is lacking and the same ground reference point has been seen again for the multiplied time, and you know something is amiss.
This is what happens to us in our life as the things of life come and go. Sometimes they stack up and seemingly make no progress. Sometimes there is a reason, like a special flight with low fuel needing priority, so we understand, if we are told. It is the one we don’t understand that is the problem. It is when we are lacking the information and then there are more coming in and it seems like none are moving through, these are the problem. This is when we feel like the land has turned to desert and the points of reference have been removed and there is no progress. We are in a holding pattern in our life and are not sure why. Or for how long… or if the reason will ever be known… and yet, still, here we are.
This happens in our jobs, our parental activities when the kids are small, or when our loved one is ill or taken from us unexpectedly, or to our faith when answers are shallow and dry… and there is no information coming through to make it make sense. We watch others moving along with their lives in what appears a purposeful way, and wonder what it is that is keeping us in this circle and on hold. It may be that we are using the wrong measure to mark progress, success, or value, but maybe not.
There are places and times in our lives that we are simply impatient. That is different. Like in third grade and you know that the fourth grade classes go on the bus to a different building, and you are stuck learning cursive and doing your math problems during recess. That is a place that is needed, and you may feel unproductive and under utilized, but that is not what I am talking about. We need to do the work of the learning and it simply takes a certain amount of time and it has to be logged in. The only way to learn the piano is to put in the hours of practice that allows the creativity to flow much later. Don’t short change that labor and commitment. What I am talking about is more selective in application and more brutal in kind. It seems un-planned in its purpose, or worse planned by a tyrant with a perverse pleasure in the game. This is a creature of a different nature altogether and we are not in charge.
This is a place where people find themselves after the toys have lost their shine and the springs have gone weak. It is when the weariness of well doing has lost the impact of the appreciation. It is found in places like Mother Theresa’s diary when the dark places seem both very dark indeed, and with no end insight. It is not simply the weariness of the third week of nightshifts and it is confused with fatigue. This is called Acedia in the Greek, and it looks like depression to some. It isn’t “clinical depression” though, as that is real and different. This is a mixture of malaise with a tincture of resentment. It has an edge. Most of the time that edge can be hidden, but the jokes will show it. The sharp look and the quick jab of sarcasm will show its colors, but usually only to one that has walked in that same desert. Everyone else will simply think the jab was funny and a bit awkward. But the one that has the scar that came from the same tool will know.
There are many in this desert, once you start to see with eyes of wisdom. They are past middle age, perhaps discontented or disillusioned with some dominant aspect of career or life station. Past the zenith of the arc and yet called upon to continue. They fill the pew, or the office and then go home. You know some, or perhaps have seen their kind, and wondered what their story is. But you don’t ask. Perhaps not wanting to get involved or not to get bogged down by the drama and fatigue of it. One guy I know is in this desert due to a child turned numb by alcohol and has not bottomed yet and is the midst of the anger and denial and losing everything while blaming everyone. While every story is different, every story is the same. One told me that he was an atheist, and I wondered if he wasn’t simply wounded. He was 28. Everyone has a wound, some walk with a limp.
There is another type of holding pattern though. The giver of care. The holding pattern of a mom to a little one with a scratch on their knee or a bit of fear that needs resolved. This pattern of holding is one of assurance and strength or love that says “it will be ok soon”. A different one is that of a spouse when the doctor’s report is dire and hope has gone dry. It is one of tenderness and mingled tears at the prospect of a severe change in life. The holding pattern of two sitting, with a glass of wine, on the sofa by a fire with not a word spoken and much being known…you get the idea. Holding patterns come in many forms like this as well. Times of comfort for the bereaved, pleasure at the reunion of a grandchild, and joy at the lost returned and the hand holding of young, and old, lovers. These are holding patterns as well. Some you receive. Some you give. Some you miss. Some you withhold.
We have all hugged those that only take from us. We have all held onto those that simply give and feed our weary souls. We know the difference, and the times when we could have used a different hug than the one we received. We also know when we could have done a better bit of holding in return.
In order to relieve the numbness of Acedia we must get up and go and do… but only after we have become. Become new again, in the realization that we are not done, and that this scar or limp will be our banner and not our end. We may not have the limberness we once did, but perhaps we have gained some insight for having been in the battle over malaise and frustration. Then perhaps we can be the sage instead of the knight. Perhaps too we can feast again on the tales of battles fought, though others are the participants and we can see the glint of steel in their eyes while the telling is told. And then, after the candle is shorter, we can speak of the times of old when the warriors wore a different cloak and used a different weapon. It is then, in the retelling, that we can recognize that we are still of noble stuff. Worthy for new battles of a different nature, and a different foe from a different land. It is a place that we can be of help and strength to others with our own known scars and wounds, and we can again hear the gospel that we can tell others, and perhaps listen ourselves.
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