“I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily …”
I sought it daily …”
(W.B. Yeats, The Circus Animals’ Desertion)
Yeats is usually good for a quote and this is no exception. In the past weeks all sorts of themes have gone through my head, been examined, some even started only to be left, as unsatisfactory, unfinished. Some just appeared futile. Should I add a few more futile words to the futile millions already uttered about Israel and Gaza – a strife poisoned by new and ancient wrongs, by endless reciprocations of mutual, almost ritualised despite and hatred, provocations and violence, two sides claiming the high moral ground long abandoned (for all sorts of understandable reasons) by both? Should I write a philippic about the greed and careless, unthinking callousness of those who play the markets, making speculative profits in amounts inconceivable to us ordinary people, betting at the same time on their failures – which can throw hundreds of thousands into misery – so that, even when they lose, they win? Or the greedy, arrogant incompetence of multinational concerns who pay out millions in dividends to their shareholders while the result of their technological hubris (and our insatiable hunger for cheap, abundant energy) poisons thousands of square miles of ocean and coastline? What’s the point? The world has always been so and does not seem likely to change in the foreseeable future.
Or is it just that my lazy muse is taking some time off, doing something more productive like laying in beer, peanuts and a subscription to a pay-TV channel so as to watch the World Cup in comfort? If I’m honest about it, I just have to admit that I know perfectly well what’s wrong; I have been, for the past six weeks or so, out of balance.
Just before going on holidays at the end of April, I was called in for a talk with my boss who informed me that the top management of the company I work for had decided to close the day-care centre I’ve been running for the past two years or so at the end of June. Nothing to do with my colleagues or me, the quality of the work we have been doing was exemplary. It was a simple economic, business decision. It didn’t even take me completely by surprise, I was aware that my department had not been making money; in fact, I’d been fighting to have our firm implement measures which, in my view, would have effected a turn-around by the end of the year. But, in the end, management decided that the situation was too uncertain and, to put it bluntly, wasn’t worth the effort.
With one exception – and that in the case of a colleague who had basically already decided to quit anyway – there were no redundancies involved; we were all offered alternative positions within the company. We have organised alternative care for our guests and one colleague has even managed to negotiate a new contract with the organisation which is taking most of them – so the transition will be as smooth as is humanly possible for them. In my case, the alternative offered to me involves a number of disadvantages, particularly as it entails working some nights and weekends, something I thought I had happily left behind me. But there are also advantages, including a new challenge and a fair deal of freedom (and responsibility) in building up and running a new project.
Still, it hurt. I liked the work I was doing, I’d been confident that the difficulties that were there could be overcome and was quite happy with the prospect of settling into middle age and continuing to do that work for many years to come – even, perhaps, to retirement. And then, wham, forget it, it’s over, realise that the only constant thing in life is change and change can come suddenly, unexpectedly. And other, darker realisations. That even in areas where you are confident, security is a fragile thing. A reminder that our society is based, for most of us, on us selling and being able to sell our competence, our skills, our time on a market where a significant part of our value has to do with whether others can make a profit with it. That friendship, sympathy, care, all the immaterial values have to bow to the dictates of material profit and loss. That there is quite some truth in the description of the way we run our world as wage slavery.
The past weeks at work have not been easy. It’s not easy to motivate yourself when you know that the job you’ve been doing for years, the work you enjoyed, the work that sometimes drove you crazy, the people you’ve learned to know well, all this will be over in a few weeks. My colleagues and I all have to deal with the traitorous feeling that, in our view, this step need not have been taken, but that we were, in the end, powerless to change decisions made at other levels by other people. We have to listen to the indignation and complaints of our guests (those of them who understand what is happening) and their relatives, who are, understandably, saddened, angry and feel insecure about the coming major change in their lives, and reply diplomatically and sympathetically.
As head of the department, I’ve had the added load of having to organise the winding-up of the whole thing; announcing it to our clients in the first place, doing the planning of the hand-over to their new day-care centre, explaining to inquirers that, no, sorry, we don’t have a place for your mother/father because we’re closing. And simultaneously I’m finding more and more time taken up with the planning of my new project, which has to be up and running on July 1. As difficult as saying goodbye to our day-care centre is, I’ll be glad when June is over.
So that’s why, as I commented earlier, I’m somewhat out of balance. But then, yesterday evening, maybe ten minutes before eleven, shortly before going to bed, I went into the kitchen and chanced to glance out the window. The sun had gone down and it was almost dark but on the north-western horizon, under a bank of clouds, the sky was still bright. It’s almost midsummer, I thought, and the nights have indeed grown short. The world turns, the seasons change and the earth moves on around the sun. There is balance everywhere, in everything large and small. But balance is not something static, it is founded in dynamism, movement, growth, change. Panta rei, is one of the earliest philosophical realisations of the ancient Greeks; all is change, everything is in transition. Go with the flow, I thought, you can only balance on a bicycle when it’s moving. And suddenly, there was a feeling of peace, of serenity.
The balance is always there – it’s just harder to feel it sometimes.
Picture retrieved from:
Picture retrieved from: