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The Upender

Mike and I woke up on Saturday morning clearly aware that we had entered the next phase in this world changing event.


We were both rattled with anxiety. We had been calm, living our lives, adjusting to the new normal, when all of a sudden it arrived here in the Grove.


The gut twisting anguish that turns the blood cold and drops the heart into the stomach.


I have encountered this force many times before. When my grandmother died. When our dear friend Mark died in a car accident. When my marriage was failing or the kids are ill.


Working with the desperately sick and impoverished as a nurse case manager, I frequently encountered this force. For my patients, this unwelcome guest had arrived over and over again until their lives were in ruins. Job loss, eviction, addiction, death of a child, homelessness, life altering diagnoses, etc.


I came to call this force The Upender. I imagined it entering our lives and turning over the furniture. Throwing our portraits against the wall until the glass shatters and scratches out the faces of loved ones. Draining our life blood and filling our veins with lead and fear. Cracking open the veneer of control and exposing the squirming fear within us, exposing the truth of the fragility of life and our vulnerability to the unknown and unknowable.


The Upender comes for all of us throughout our lives. This is the truth that Siddartha's father tried desperately to keep from him. This is the truth that we all like to pretend isn't looming around the next bend. For all of us, this truth is now looming close and staring us each in the eyes. All of us. All over the world. Rich and poor. All religions. All races. All ways of life. The Upender is here for us all.


Our way of life is over. Having seen the Upender at work so often, I know that there are many ways to encounter this force. I watched this dance most closely in my work as a hospice nurse. The dying cannot outrun the reality of this looming presence, and yet some choose to never turn to face the reality that has arrived. They run, they fight, they rage and cling to control. As hospice providers, our only recourse was to medicate them heavily so that they would not hurt themselves or their loved ones.


Others would turn gracefully toward the Upender, see the new reality, and work with it. They would carefully plan their memorial service, write letters to their children or grandchildren not yet born, spend time sitting in the sun, eating juicy peaches or looking through family albums. They decided to deeply enjoy what time they had left and to do what they could to leave the world a better place for having been a part of it.


Many people fell somewhere in between, vacillating between acceptance and dread, ruled by their emotions, and not coming to the beautiful closure of those who accepted their death but also not raging and destroying. They died as they had lived, mostly ruled by their impulses and trying to ignore the deeper life that longed to emerge.


For those chronically ill but not terminally ill, for whom I worked as their case manager, I saw the same pattern. Some were able to face their circumstances, ask for and receive help, grieve and hope, and continue to have meaningful relationships. Others lost themselves in the numbing powers of addiction to avoid turning to see the Upender as it tore through their lives. Many fell in between, vacillating between healthy coping and numbing oblivion and self-destruction.


I am seeing these same responses playing out in our world. Some people are deepening their faith, opening their hearts to the unknown, planting gardens, helping neighbors and holding signs outside the homes of the dying to be sure they feel loved. Some are sewing masks, taking coffee to the healthcare workers, holding prayer vigils. These are the people who have looked the Upender square in the eyes and decided it would not dictate to them how they would be in the world. They would rise to the encounter with love and devotion and trust, demonstrating their own character.


In the other extreme, some are raging, destroying, demanding control, clinging to the world that no longer exists. These people are at risk for hurting themselves and others. They cannot turn toward the Upender but instead insist on taking charge, demanding their worldview be real even as it evaporates before their eyes, unwilling to touch the deeper wounds of grief and fear and loss.


Most of us are somewhere in between. We feel helpful, hopeful and encouraged some days and fearful the next. Our impulses rise like dragons demanding we act them out. Hoard the toilet paper and the meat. Watch CNN all day. Check on grandma. Send a card. Water the flowers. Check the death count today. The impulses shift and change and leave us exhausted, ungrounded, and swinging wildly as the Upender toys with our reality.


This is the dance that Siddartha decided to fully encounter as he became the Buddha. He went deeply into the encounter and watched it unfold. He found where he could ease the suffering which is guaranteed to enter every life. He worked to soften the edges, to work out the kinks, to ride awareness into the full embrace of the whole drama.


We have entered the next phase of this unfolding. The old world is dead and no one knows what will happen next. Those of us who sense energy are likely feeling this shift. The floor has dropped away. A new foundation is emerging, rising, taking shape, but it is not yet solid and can't hold weight. We are adrift. The Upender has turned the world upside down.


We don't know the outcome of the story, but we are utterly free in deciding who we will be as this unfolds. Will we be the person who can turn and face this force with an open heart and a decision to make as much beauty and to help as many people as possible? Will we allow our impulses to rule the day as we vacillate wildly between fear and hope? Will we rage and cling to what has already passed by, losing our connection to what is emerging? These are the choices that we have.


Who will you be as you encounter the Upender that has come for us all?






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