My friends and I have a shorthand for being completely overwhelmed: we say we’re lying on the floor. I’ve used this phrase dozens of times and have never actually being lying on the floor while sharing it, but it encapsulates something raw and essential about reaching my personal capacity for coping. Sometimes it’s all I can do or imagine. All I want is to lie on the floor.
Kate Braestrup, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Maine, once observed that when she gave people bad news—often the worst news, of a loved one dying—people would sink to the floor. “I go down to the floor with them and we stay on the floor and it’s a very safe place to be,” she said in an interview with NPR in 2007. “You can’t fall off, you know, and you can stay down there until you’re ready to kind of rise again.”
I’ve been thinking about sinking to the floor a lot these past few days, of the need to get to the lowest possible point and sit there a while, simply existing.
I see so many people I know and care about sinking to the floor right now. This has been a year, for many of us, like no other, and we have given beyond our capacity and lost so much. We have been running on fumes for weeks, and we are exhausted, frustrated, and hollowed out. Some of us are feeling broken in body and/or spirit.
We have been urged all year to do more, to give more, to produce more than anyone reasonably could under the wave of circumstance that has crashed in and through our lives. It’s tempting to continue to do that, especially when so much of what we’ve lost professionally is the stuff that brought us to this path—our individual curiosities and the satisfaction of questions asked and answered. But I see us—myself included—grasping at these fleeting moments between the classes we teach and winding ourselves like springs, fueled by anxiety and loss and rage, pinning our hopes on the cleansing magic of passing into a brand-new year.
2021 will be better.
If you’ve sunk to the floor, I see you. And perhaps the harder thing is to stay there a while. Existing in that space requires that I, for example, forgive myself for the deadlines I’m missing and the book reviews and curriculum pieces and essays that I owe. It requires me to trust that the world will not collapse if I’m several books behind in knowing what’s going on in my field. It requires me to accept that the competency that provides a large part of my sense of self is not lost because I cannot summon up willpower from emptiness. It requires that I grieve for lost companionship (and for others, that they grieve the loss of solitude). It requires that I do not numb myself to the realities of the people I know who are sick, or have died.
That we will rise from this spot on the rug, on the carpet, on the wooden floor is a truth I’ve witnessed so many times. And I do not mean to suggest that we should avoid things that bring us joy. If, for you, that means things related to work, I celebrate that right alongside you.
But if you need the floor a while—take up some space. Lie down with your arms out-stretched and breathe in and out deeply, without guilt.
I’m right there with you. Take this time.