I “just happened” to wake up early this morning, around that time when it’s somewhere between last night and this morning, in the darkness before dawn. I wasn’t awake for long, and I’m not sure how fully awake I was. I know I was sad about some bad news I’d heard from a friend … and then I was concerned because so many things are in flux for so many people right now. My mind started racing, as it often does when I wake up at an odd time. Eventually I fell asleep again; had some strange, half-remembered dreams; and woke up to a beautiful sunny day.
It’s not unusual for me to wake up at odd times, not unusual for cares and concerns to crowd my mind when I do, and not unusual for me to feel better when I wake up a few hours later. But I noticed something today, something so obvious that I rarely notice it at all.
It was really dark then … but in a few hours, light returned.
When I think of the dark times in my own life, I can see a similar pattern. It’s really dark for a while, and then, sometimes gradually, sometimes rapidly, the light returns. Even when you don’t expect it, even when you’re really tempted to give up, the light still returns.
But what do you do in the meantime, when everything seems so bleak?
Do you sit in the darkness and wait for the light? Do you keep moving forward even when it’s dark? Do you just give up, too tired and frustrated to do anything else?
Just giving up doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ve done a lot of sitting and waiting and a good bit of moving forward anyway over the years. And the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that there’s not a single, “perfect” approach, a thing that’s “exactly” right for everybody all the time.
As I started to write today’s blog post, I got a call with more potentially good news about that potential partnership I keep referring to in general terms. Things still aren’t completely finalized, but they’re moving in a good, positive direction … an even more positive direction than what seemed to be the case yesterday. As I think back over the past few months, which really weren’t all that dark, and over darker times before that, I see times when I really needed to sit and wait, other times when I moved forward anyway, and a lot of times when I felt like I was sitting in some regards and moving in others.
There were even some times when I wanted to take action and move forward, but I had a sense the timing wasn’t right. And now, as things are getting clearer, I can see how the timing would have been wrong, even if I can’t necessarily see why.
Times of sorrow, times of joy. Times of action, times of waiting. You can expect a mixture of all of these. But if you’re part of a supportive and joyful community, or a network of such communities, both the waiting and the action are a lot less hard. And when much of your action is focused on building and sustaining joyful communities with others, it’s really important to know who will be helping to sustain you, and how, when, and where you can turn to them. When I think of friends and colleagues over the years who have faltered, and a few who just gave up, it’s easy to see how isolated they became … how they kept everyone else at a distance, allowed no one to see and share their pain. And it overwhelmed them, or came close, because pain in isolation will do that.
And I understand the temptation. A few years ago, at some Mandated Professional Development Activity, one task was for everyone to determine what animal best symbolized somebody else. My friend Ms. F and I were partners; I don’t remember what animal I chose for her, but I clearly remember what she chose for me. “You’re an armadillo,” she said, “because you’re very friendly and kind, but you have lots of layers, and I’m not sure if Any Of Us know all of them.”
And she was right … but I took that as a wake-up call. I’m not sure that anybody knows all the layers of anybody else. But if a layer is completely unknown, completely secret, it can fester in the darkness. Thanks to Ms. F, I’ve tried to make sure that there’s somebody I can share different layers with, even though there probably isn’t anybody who knows all of them.
And that’s an important lesson for us builders and sustainers of joyful learning communities, too. It takes a while to build trust, to bring a diverse group of people together into the kinds of profound connections that a joyful community will bring. You can’t rush the process, and sometimes you really do have to sit and wait for the time to be right. Other times, you have to keep moving forward, striving to build connections or resolve problems … and sometimes you have to do a bit of both. Inevitably you’ll make mistakes along the way, too; you’ll sit and wait when you needed to move forward, move forward when sittting and waiting would have been better, maybe even give up for a while when some victory was almost in reach. But unlike a factory-model organization focused on perfection, a joyful community can embrace the power of “more perfect” and “more precisely.” Even the mistakes and disasters can help to build and sustain the community … especially when we share them together, even in the darkness before dawn.
I wonder what else we’ll discover together in days and weeks to come!