The world feels so unstable. The earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, the volcanoes coming to life in Hawaii. Here in Switzerland, someone I barely knew but had hoped to see again soon passed away in the night. How can that happen? Now I will never know her. All that she had not yet said, not yet done, not yet written, will never come to be.

My teenagers are moving into their own lives. I’m racked with doubt. Did I do what needed to be done? I’m standing at the side of the road, watching them head off, full of hope and trepidation. I want to go with them, patch up their problems, organize their backpacks, take inventory of the contents of their hearts. But I can’t. This is their road to take, not mine.

All morning I worry – that I have not been a good enough parent, that I don’t put healthy enough food on the table, that I am not fit enough, or capable enough, or a good enough friend, that the garden is choked with weeds, that the taxes still haven’t been organized, that everything I have spent my energy on for the last twenty years is meaningless and fleeting. And then I chide myself – how can any of this matter, when the world as a whole is suffering in ways that dwarf my own experience? When lives have been swept away too soon? Maybe when the earth is in upheaval, like it was yesterday, we all experience existential aftershocks like this, in our own particular ways?

I’d give anything for a remote control that could just freeze everything until I figure it out or, better yet, rewind, so I can fix what I think went wrong and do what I’ve left undone. Is it just me, or do these periods of doubt hit harder as we get older? It makes sense, in a way. The longer we’ve lived, the greater are the chances that we’ve screwed something up along the way.

I can report from extensive personal experience that Jelly Bellies are not really a dependable solution to an existential crisis. Focusing on toasted marshmallow or strawberry cheesecake can keep it at bay for a little while, but in the end the paradox is still there, staring you in the face: change is a permanent state of nature; there is no such thing as solid ground. Nothing we can do or eat or invent will ever alter that reality. Ironically, the only real solution is time itself. The earth will settle down. And eventually some small thing — a word, a gesture, a ray of sunlight on the warm wood of the floor – reminds me that the world is a beautiful place, that I am loved, that I am so very lucky to be able to live and love in turn.

One thought on “Aftershocks

  1. Jelly Bellies may not be a satisfactory solution, but they are the best thing we've got. Especially cinnamon-toast-flavored Jelly Bellies. The smell of cinnamon toast makes one believe that somewhere in the world there is a place where All is Well with the World. The flavor combined with the incongruous shape and texture turn that belief into certainty.

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