When The Earth Falls From Beneath Your Feet

When I was a child, I remember my mother encouraging me to get on a certain ride when we visited an amusement park. I don’t remember the name of the ride, but I remember what it looked it; people would stand in these little slots and hold onto bars on either side of them, at shoulder length. There was no strap that went across them, just these bars. The ride would begin, and, going in a circle, would go faster and faster until the floor would fall from beneath their feet.

I was horrified.  There was this …thing…going around and around at such a high rate of speed, and there was no floor for the riders to stand on! My mother explained that there was nothing to worry about; something called centrifugal force was keeping the people safe. They wouldn’t fall. “The force” had them.

I never did get on that ride, and still shudder when I see it…but it made me think about the forces which are in place in our lives which keep us from falling even when the earth falls from beneath our feet.

I have been watching the people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. I ached, literally, as I listened to a woman who lives in Staten Island talk last night on CNN about how her life had been changed in the course of an hour. “I want to go home,” she cried, “but I can’t! There is no home. I don’t have a home!”

The earth…has fallen from beneath her feet and from beneath the feet of so many others, but there is a force which will keep her and others upright, in spite of their huge loss.

I read something by Richard Rohr that explained what it is to experience “the holy.” He talked about the “communion of saints,” and said that we are always in the company of others who have gone before us. Their spirits never leave us; our DNA came from them. They have a presence with us that keeps us. It’s the same spirit that helped keep them as they went through their “floorless” moments.

It would probably be really good if some of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina could meet with, sit and touch, the survivors of Hurricane Sandy. They are truly the only ones who know how THIS particular experience feels. They have been there. The floor fell from beneath their feet…and they were held up by a spiritual centrifugal force. They didn’t stand on their own; they were too devastated and too crushed to do that. They held onto survival bars, though, and a force kept them on their feet, though their worlds were spinning and had spun out of control.

In moments of despair and great pain, all of us need something greater than us to hold us up. It’s the same “force” that kept the Jews up during the Holocaust, the same “force” that kept African-Americans up during slavery and afterward, when angry whites undid all of the gains made during Reconstruction. It’s the same force that keeps the Haitian people up, in spite of abject poverty and ruination…with really no visible light at the end of their tunnel.

I call this force “God,” but I realize that might not be what everyone calls it. Regardless of what you call it, however, there is a spiritual centrifugal force that keeps you upright …even when the earth falls from beneath your feet.

If I might go back to that ride that my mother unsuccessfully tried to get me to try: the stupid thing finally stopped spinning so fast, and as the speed of the spin slowed, the floor came back into place.  The people were safe. All they had to do was hold on and be still while the ride spun faster and faster. I suspect that because of the power of the centrifugal force, they probably didn’t even need the bars, but they helped make the riders feel secure.

Hold on, good people, to those bars. Your world is spinning out of control. The destruction around you is mammoth and scary…the earth has fallen from beneath your feet…but there is a force that will keep you up and make you able to accept and walk in your new normal.

A candid observation.

®Candid Observation, 2012



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