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All That Is Fair: The Wisdom to Know the Dance


Sometimes you find yourself face to face with a dilemma that feels utterly terrifying.  I’m only 37, and I’ve encountered more than a few circumstances in my life that have rattled me.  That feeling of being out of control, of having all good options stripped away from you, of having the rug pulled out from underneath… it’s universal.  Yet, you still have to make a choice.  You still have to choose how to respond to the trial.  Coping with the death of a family member, accepting the realities of a horrible illness, walking through a divorce, or simply dealing with the consequences of one’s own personal sins and shortcomings are just a few examples of situations we all dread.  We’re forced to swallow the truth that our lives do not look like we would have hoped.

One way many of us deal with this dread is to fight, to charge into the dilemma with anger and seek to control all or part of the thing that threatens us.  This may feel effective for the short term but will ultimately lead to a catastrophic backfire!  As if you were a crew member on the Titanic who, after learning the ship is sinking, decided to frantically reorganize the deck chairs on the observation level. In the end it doesn’t matter because either way you’re going down.

Another, perhaps more common, reaction to troubling events is to ignore them altogether and seek out ways of diverting our attention to more pleasant things.  I remember as a pre-teen when my friends or teachers or family members would ask me how I was coping with the death of my father, I would quickly change the subject to try and lighten the mood.  I’d try to be funny, or talk about video games or skateboarding… anything to keep from having to deal with the heavy awkwardness of the real emotions bubbling underneath the surface.  The danger with this approach is that you can remain blind to reality. You avoid immediate pain but miss opportunities that are present in the pain.  Opportunities to see yourself better, how the circumstance might be nudging you toward change in some way or other.

Recovering alcoholics understand this lack of balance.  They see that all of humanity usually errs to one side or the other of Niehbur’s serenity prayer.  We either lack the serenity to accept reality, or we lack the courage to change it.  And we arrive at these cul-de-sacs because we lack the wisdom to know the difference between the two.  We cannot see the defensive compulsions we have developed over the course of our lives.  In fact, we won’t allow them to be seen, because calling them out for what they truly are requires that we experience the pain those mechanisms have been defending us against. 

Radiohead (perhaps the oddest and most brilliant band that emerged during my adolescence) calls our defenses a dance.  On their most recent album they released a song called “Present Tense.”  The brief first-person lyric is almost like a confession framed inside a monologue.  The singer is having an honest conversation with himself about his dance, calling it a weapon of defense.  But to others he’s saying, “Don’t dig too deep! Keep the conversation light and on the surface, and meanwhile I’ll continue to dance.”  It’s a weird and intriguingly beautiful song where a kernel of truth resides.  Let this remind you to get honest with yourself and pray for the wisdom to know the dance that you perform to shield yourself from what you may need to walk through.

Present Tense

This dance, This dance
It’s like a weapon, It’s like a weapon

Of self defense, Self defense
Against the present, Against the present
Present tense

I won’t get heavy, Don’t get heavy
Keep it light and Keep it moving
I am doing No harm

As my world Comes crashing down
I’ll be dancing Freaking out
Deaf, dumb, and blind