Holding onto something while the world quakes

The Yellow Chair ChronEchols

By Candace Echols

My sister lives in Italy. She called the other day and we were talking about a lot of things. She brought up the redemptive qualities of McDonald’s French fries on a bad day (no matter what country you live in). We lamented (again) the fact that Gilmore Girls has ended most likely for good (of course, you never know). She told me about her week as she walked her children home from school; five minutes later, I dropped my own kids off to start their day and told her about mine.

She was here not long ago for a visit, but a lot has happened since then. A few weeks back, she asked me a question she has never asked before, even after many years of living abroad.

What’s it like over there right now?

She and I grew up six years apart, but in the same household. Our memories of our childhood backdrops are the same. Bare feet on cut grass. The bounce bounce bounce of our brother’s driveway basketball at all hours of the day. Riding bikes endlessly—no hands—around the block with a slew of neighborhood kids of all ages. Scraped knees. Silly arguments. Lots and lots of boredom and sweat. It wasn’t all popsicles and lemonade stands, but it was good. And to us, it felt stable. Settled. 

I paused in my answer to her. I wasn’t entirely sure what to say. And talking politics — not my style.

“Well,” I hesitated,” I’ve never been in an earthquake, so I’m not sure how that feels, but I’ve been in some tremors. I remember one night, when we lived on the third floor of The Lofts downtown, Jim and I were awakened by the gentle ding-ding-ding of the metal ball at the end of the pull chain bumping against the lamp it was attached to. At the same moment, the bed jostled slightly as if Jim had turned over with gusto, but actually, the ground was shaking beneath us—just enough to wake us out of our slumber and send us straight into a midnight panic, grasping in the air for the most stable piece of furniture we could find. That’s kinda how it seems right now. Some of the awakening is good, and some makes me feel panicky. But in general, there’s a nervous energy in the air that I don’t remember feeling before now.” 

That was what she had gathered, she said, from thousands of miles away. 

At least once a day, sometimes more often, I find myself mentally grasping for a little more steadiness, an invisible piece of the most stable furniture I can find. Some question will percolate from one of my children as they process the world around them, or some headline will catch my eye and I find myself thinking “I have absolutely no idea how to respond to that. Don’t even know where to start.” It’s extremely disorienting. 

With or without this column, my personal pursuit would be the same: wisdom. But I’ve never, ever felt the need for it more acutely than I do now. I think it leads to a healthy life, to light and color and delight, to well-made decisions that can change entire civilizations. In these tremor-like cultural moments when I’m reaching out for something or Someone to make me feel grounded, there is one thing I do. Every night. 

I study the moon. 

The moon calms me in ways nothing else will. It reminds me of how big (small) I am and how the world did not start once I arrived, nor will it end when I am gone. The moon hangs up there, all aglow, suggesting nightly there could be Someone who is wiser than I, asking me to consider how it got there and why it’s never fallen off course despite all the unrest on the planet it watches over. 

The steady, predictable way of the moon reveals an order built into nature that prompts an obvious question: where did this cosmic order come from and why can’t we seem to make it happen where humans are involved? An unexpected peace slips in when I remember that something beyond my phone and the headlines and Instagram is at play in this big old universe, and I’m free to lean into that. Throw the stars in and I’m righted in every way.

Tonight, dear reader, if you find yourself grasping like I often do, consider taking your world-weary self outside to watch the moon for as long as you like. Consider, Where did it come from? Where is it going? And can the moon reveal something to us all about where to find wisdom? 

If that doesn’t help, get yourself some McDonald’s fries. 

StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the QuarantineCandace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.

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