While browsing through an article entitled “Perspective: Searching for Balance” in the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, I came across an idea that intrigued me: the importance of middle ground.
The author, Kathryn Dodgson, quotes a Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe. Achebe writes that he is fascinated by the middle ground — “It is neither the origin of things nor the last things; it is aware of a future to head into and a past to fall back on; it is the home of doubt and indecision, of suspension of disbelief, of make-believe, of playfulness, of the unpredictable, of irony.”
My thinking was stimulated by the invitation to consider a “middle ground” or middle way. That idea is so out of favor in a culture of extremes. Political and economic fortunes ride a roller coaster of extremes. Religious convictions are either fanatical or absent. We are encouraged to believe in absolutes in relationships, career choices and, of course, in regard to health. We are considered either healthy or sick, strong or weak, flaring or in remission.
Yet isn’t our reality more complicated than that? None of us are in just one place.
Achebe, in his collection of essays, The Education of a British-Protected Child, writes that his people, the Igbo, prefer not singularity but duality. Wherever Something Stands, Something Else Will Stand Beside It. Isn’t that a perfect description of life with illness?
We may see this most clearly in our fear — on good days we are often only too aware that our joint disease Stands Close By. It is difficult to believe in the singularity of health once chronic illness has struck.
Religious convictions are either fanatical or absent. We are encouraged to believe in absolutes in relationships, career choices and, of course, in regard to health. We are considered either healthy or sick, strong or weak, flaring or in remission. Yet isn’t our reality more complicated than that?
But the reverse is also true — and here is where we can miss something important. You have a day where you only feel fatigue and aches. It may seem that illness is the only reality. But if you allow yourself to see your body in a larger context, you recognize that your health is also present — it Stands Beside your fatigue and pain.
The middle ground, the middle way is a reminder that we are never really on one shore or the other — we are all navigating back and forth, weaving several strands together in our lives. One of the strands is the illness, one of the strands is our radiant health, one of the strands is pain, one of the strands is energy, and on and on it goes.
You may be wondering, how can this idea aid your daily living?
If you have the mental habit of “either/or” thinking, it can help to shade in a middle ground. When you ask yourself “How am I feeling today?” — go beyond “good” or “lousy.” Well, I have some pain in my knee, and the sun is shining on my head — so there is some pain and some warmth and relaxation.
Look for the Middle Way, not just the extremes, and value it. We can live in that place — there is room to embrace more of life, and room for things to happen. Mystery lives in the middle, as do miracles and possibilities. This is where communication and community dwell — where we join hands and hearts.
I look forward to meeting you there.