Sunday, October 21, 2012


(Remember how I said I wrote the other day? This is it.)

My first week in Russia, I saw a plastered drunkar(d—my Russian companion seemed to think that last “d” didn’t exist) on the metro. A friend helped him into the wagon, but as soon as the train started moving, the drunk man fell and slid across the almost-empty floor. He couldn’t get up, he had no balance. And honestly, I knew how he felt. Although I hadn’t lost my full balance-capacities to debilitating alcohol, the metro was something hard for me at first. The balancing part, I mean. Standing sideways, feet about shoulder-width apart, slowly rocking with the train . . . it was easier when you knew the strip of metro line really well, so you could expect generally how the wagon would rock. And there were always the hand-railings. But then very often there were the moments where the metro was too crowded to hold on and too crowded to get the optimum center of balance, and you just had to hope that you weren’t going to embarrassingly fall over into the 5 people right next to you and cause a domino effect. It became a game to see how long I could stand in the middle of the wagon, not holding on, just riding the metro in perfect balance. It’s an interesting feeling—to be almost one with the machine, feeling from the incontrollable movements of your body how you need to resist next, where to put your weight to counter the turn and the stop. As one who was never super balanced before, I became proud of my physical control and grew to love the puzzle of forces and the feeling of resisting gravity.

My last week in Russia, I went to the circus. My companion and I took the train to Chkalovskaya and hopped on the salad green line. Sister M was new in Russia; I was her trainer and she had only been there a 2 months. As someone who was even less coordinated than I am (which is saying something), it was half funny and half pitiful to watch her on the metro. She still was having a hard time finding her balance in Moscow, and not just on the metro. After meeting up with our district, we wandered the streets in between Chistie Prudie and Sretenskii Bul’var and eventually wound up at our intended destination. I was amazed with all the physical stamina and control the performers had. Balance. It was all contained in their perfect balance. One brother stood on a board on balls and placed a board on his head, balls on that board, and another board on top of that—which his brother than stood on top of. A dancer did point ballet on a tightrope, quickly jumping between the splits and to a full toe-stand and back again. The line wobbled, but she never moved from the center. Having once worn a pair of my dorm-mate’s toe shoes, I knew how hard it was to stand balanced in them on a full floor. Her balance was perfect, and blew my practically-perfect metro-riding out of the water.

Balance is an interesting thing. Life is full of moments where we don’t have control and our body just needs to take over: running along an icy sidewalk to catch the bus, playing chicken on the bars in elementary school, hiking down a mountain slope of wet rocks. It’s hard to put trust in the internal balance regulator that we’ve supposedly been blessed with. It requires just the right amount of caution, but not too much, or the rigidity of your body makes things worse. It’s usually better if you have a friend to hold onto—unless, of course, you fall while trying to steady their skid. I never could get past my fear of falling and lack of confidence enough to purposely slide along the snowy sidewalks like some of my companions. But the moments where I just started walking, and running, and flying, forgetting about the ice beneath my feet . . . once I realized what was happening, that the ground beneath me really was slippery . . . those were some of the most liberating moments.

Proverbs 16:11 reads, “A just weight and balance are the Lord’s: all the weights of the bag are his work.” And perhaps this spiritual balance is harder to achieve than the pointe on the tightrope—a daunting task for those of us who struggle with our feet planted firmly upon the ground (even if it is icy or moving at high speeds miles underground). Sometimes when I start missing Moscow, I miss that thrill that comes while walking on the icy streets and riding the metro, the thrill of defying the natural man and becoming something more. It’s so much harder to find a perfect balance of self when there isn’t a physical manifestation of your success, when it’s all internal. It’s a lifelong pursuit, as well, not just something you can learn in a few months. I think about Sister M falling over into people almost every time we got on the metro, and realize that that is me in a spiritual sense. I hope that by the end of my “mission” I will at least have some control, have mastered some of the handholds and weight-placement of life. Right now I’m perhaps in the too-cautious mode, which, I’ll admit, is my main problem, both physically and spiritually. But I hope to get to the point where I’m playing the metro game every moment, where I have the courage and determination to just go with the flow and not worry about school and the future and plans that have fallen through. Where I can truly realize what is important to me and who I am in the Lord’s eyes. I’m trying to find that balance, to slowly let go of the railing, and then, with perfect faith in the Lord, just take off running down a slippery, icy tightrope.

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