Before leaving the Washington, D.C. area, I took some time to do the typical tourist attractions and to embrace all that my city had to offer. One of those things was to go to the top of the Washington Monument. It had been closed for several years following the earthquake in August 2011. I had never been to the top and I wanted to have this memory before leaving the city I love on an extended journey.
After waiting in line with your tour group, you are led up in an elevator. One of the things the docent tells you as you are traveling to the top of the 169 meter (555 ft) monument is the tower is built entirely without mortar. It is made of large bricks of granite laid upon each other and held in place solely by friction and by their own weight. In other words, the iconic obelisk that all but defines Washington, D.C. is nothing more than a pile of blocks akin to a Jenga tower! One solid push and the whole thing could come tumbling down. But it doesn’t.
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” ~Stephen Hawking.
QUICK SCIENCE LESSON: Gravity is the inward pull by the earth on the mass of other objects. For example, the moon stays in orbit because it is attracted to the gravity of the earth. Everything within the earth’s atmosphere falls toward the earth due to the strength of the Earth’s inward force pulling toward itself. (Which of course feels like “down” to us because we are standing on the earth.)
This means the Washington Monument’s own weight (the strength of all of its parts being pulled toward the earth) is what allows the monument to continue to stand. Due to the mass of the blocks and the pull of gravity on them, they can withstand the elements and the tests of time.
This fascinated me.
Sometimes we are so hung up on what we don’t have that we are blind to what is right in front of us. It wasn’t until almost three months after “The Victoria Incident” that I recognized the self-limiting thought patterns in which I was caught. I had been so taken aback by Victoria’s betrayal and the financial aftermath this had on my plans that I didn’t move forward. I was stuck thinking I could only travel if circumstances were somehow returned to the original plan. I somehow believed the plan could only work if could complete the missing piece. I was trapped in a loop waiting for something to happen before I could make decisions that would lead me forward to embarking on my journey. In fact, I was so busy grieving and processing her absence, that I hadn’t even realized my sabbatical had already started.
“We often spend so much time looking at the closed door that we don’t see the one that has been opened before us.” ~Helen Keller
I had begun this journey by taking a leave of absence from work in order to sleep in, to write, to read, and to step out of my regular life. Even though Victoria’s abandonment had changed the exact conditions of my plan, the circumstances in which I found myself were the same.
Without a job to report to in the morning, I could sleep in as long as I wished.
Without a job to be at during the day, I had hours and hours of free time to read and write.
Without anyone around to disturb my solitude, I had the space to meditate and self-reflect.
Without expectations on my time or talents, I was free to explore my surroundings without goal or agenda.
Though I was now paying my mortgage with money I had set aside for travel, though I was now spending significant time and energy on advertising and marketing my home for rent, though I was delayed in purchasing my plane tickets and leaving the country in order to deal with these changes, I was still on sabbatical. I was embarrassed when I finally realized I wasn’t even taking advantage of it.
The perfectly laid plans I had set for months prior were not realized, but that did not mean I was unable to move forward. The circumstances under which I was leaving my home were not ideal, but they were not impossible. The financial strain of Victoria leaving had left me more reliant upon external factors than I had anticipated. I had wanted it to be easy. I had wanted it to be structured. I was not seeing what I had because of what I wanted. I was allowing Victoria’s choices to negatively impact my life and my dreams. I was embarrassed to be depressed and negative about my situation when I was so clearly fortunate. It was not only self-centered but also wholly unnecessary.
In a moment of realization, I felt so blessed.
Much like the Washington Monument, I was built brick by brick over many years without any cohesive, binding force. I had parented myself. Often times I had parented my mother as well. When my mother became incapacitated by her illness and was hospitalized leaving me alone to fend for myself, I had survived. Without encouragement or family support, I had stayed in school and, through the grace of God, stayed out of trouble. Eventually I even made it through college and then grad school. More recently I have started to form lasting friendships based on shared interests and mutual respect. Though halting and awkward at times, I have learned how to place my feet in a forward if not upward trajectory toward the life I want.
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” ~Jacques Yves Cousteau
For the first time in my life I made active choices to move towards something that I wanted and I was in a place, both mentally, financially, and physically, to take advantage. When that seemed as though it was crumbling, I lost my footing.
I lost my gravity.
I had let myself sink into a valley of grief and self doubt. But I thought to myself: “You have challenges. So what? You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t always survived. You have always overcome. Why would this time be any different?”
For years I have laid a foundation designed to endure life’s trials. Brick by brick, I have built myself to up to withstand life’s vicissitudes. My bricks are patience, resilience, strength, and independence. Out of these I have erected my “self.” I have been fortified. I needed only to realize I was just as secure as anyone built with the tenderness of a mother’s love as their mortar. I was just as stable as anyone built in the safety of a cemented family. I was just as capable of achieving my goals as someone whose design had turned out exactly as planned. Because a grounding force, one's gravity, is available to everyone.
What bricks has the universe compelled you to stack?
What bricks are you allowing to pull you down below the surface?
What bricks are you building your life upon?
Confuscius says: To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.
I may be out in the world working on the rest, but at least I know I have one down. I have the openness to embrace the world. I have the self-determination to forge my own path. I have the freedom to choose my reactions. And just like the iconic Washington Monument which has withstood over 165 years of weather and an earthquake, I too can stand by the weight of my own gravity.