HALF-EMPTY MASON JAR
By LESLIE SMITH TOWNSEND
It’s winter now in Kentucky with snow the size of communion wafers falling from a mute sky. By the time you read this, the sun will be shining from a brilliant blue sky and casting shadows of gnarled dogwoods on green lawns, pale pink and white petals skittering into the street, and maple whirligigs helicoptering alongside them. Or maybe it will be raining a steady spring downpour, and a little girl will be stomping her red rubber boots in a puddle, mesmerized with the power of her weight to displace water in a burst of frenzied energy, almost like violence, and the next minute she might be dancing beneath a purple and pink umbrella, oblivious to those watching.
Reading this, you’re glad to be alive and to have made it through snow and ice to another gorgeous spring. Or maybe you’re grieving some private loss and wondering why no one calls, or when they do, why they must prod and push and press you back into the mold of your former self—before loss, before questioning, before rejection or betrayal. Whether your world is gleaming with newborn hope or the temptation to despair, “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,” writes Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic. Ah, if only you could harbor these words close to your heart and be transformed!
Such is my deepest desire, anyway. Instead, I am blown hither and yon whenever the wind changes direction, so much so that whenever times are good—when the sun shines warm from a cerulean sky, redbuds bloom, and the earth renews itself—I tend to pollute the environment with my penchant for worry.
Returning from a recent vacation, I mentioned this bad habit to my husband. “You know why this week away has been so good?” I asked. “It’s because we haven’t been worrying.”
I worry about things large and small. Will my daughter Sarah be accepted to medical school? What will happen if she isn’t? How will our children repay student loans and pay their bills? How will I get everything done when I add teaching to a burgeoning caseload? How will I find time to write? What will I write? Does it matter if I write? I torture myself with relentless questions and self-doubt. Oh, how I’d love to change this dynamic, to open my mind and heart and trust that everything will be okay, that “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
The Vietnamese poet Thich Nhat Hanh says we must be able to smile at our sorrow. We are like television sets with multiple channels; we need not get stuck on one.
So today, as snow accumulates from five to possibly nine inches, I will try to stay open. The plans I’ve made will likely be canceled, so I’ll have to shift things around in my schedule later in the week. Though the thought makes my stomach seize, I refuse to be worried: “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Night arrives. Snow tampers off. A new day is born—frozen, snow blown sideways off car roofs and lawns, wind chill in the single digits. Public schools are closed the second day in a row, and I wonder whether to cancel my clients. I try not to worry. Instead of worry, I feel adrift—adrift with angst. Is there any escape from anxiety?
Surely not, at least for me. The best I can do is remind myself: “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Assistant Editor Leslie Smith Townsend is a pastoral counselor in private practice. A composite excerpt of her memoir appears in the anthology Voices of Alcoholism.