It’s the 2nd day of January 2021 as I write this.  Here in the midwestern United States it’s winter.  It’s gloomy outside, cloudy and with drizzle and 34 deg F.  We’re still in the Covid-19 pandemic.  Tension seems to be a theme.

I just looked up the word, tension, in the 3rd Edition of The American Heritage College Dictionary after looking it up on the innerwebs.   The  innerwebs had 3 clear, easy definitions that made perfect sense to me:  noun 1.  the state of being stretched tight.  2.  mental or emotional strain.  verb  apply a force to (something) which tends to stretch it.  But, somehow I felt that there would be something in the old book version that would say something different.  Not surprising, I read something I didn’t expect in that old dictionary.  It was, noun 5.  A balanced relation between strongly opposing elements. 

It’s interesting to me because since we have been in this declared pandemic beginning in mid March 2020 the situation as I am experiencing it is not one of tension.  However, thankfully I am in a house with the heat on.  I just ate some good healthy food.  I am not in the threat of being evicted from my home.  I am healthy and with white skin.  My family is healthy and I feel well.

But for some this is not the case.  For many there is significant tension.  “Hanging on by a thread,” some might say.  Some are not hanging on by a thread.  The tension has been broken because there is no longer balance of any kind.   But the mental and emotional strain doesn’t go away when the tension in the physical is lost.  It might even get worse.

As single individuals we are in and out of balance and tension all the time.  As a society I am not sure what “balance” is.  Probably something like various individuals and organizations moving in and out of tension and balance and as a group it all averages out.  But, I am pretty sure that tension will always exist in some form or another to keep us all a float, like surface tension on water that allows objects to float partially above water and partially below.

When an average person interacts with a body of water at a comfortable temperature, because we can never completely empty our lungs of air, we all have some potential to float in calm water.  Although, there are people very skilled at almost completely emptying the lungs of air with great effort and practice in order to dive below the surface of the water to explore it’s depths.  This is not the usual.  There is this phenomenon of people in panic sinking below the surface of even the calmest, most comfortable temperature water and drowning.  It’s so hard to remain calm and peaceful when your feeling the tension of not being able to survive.   Of course, if you don’t know how to swim and you’ve heard that you must know how to swim before you get into a deep lake you might avoid it until you take some type of lesson or are wearing a flotation device.  That’s likely because there will be a sign posted near the edge of the lake which indicates you might drown if you enter the water.

But, say you enter some comfortable temperature water which is nice and clear and free of debris and hazards.  You walk into the water on a gradually deepening shore.  As you walk in your feet loose contact with the bottom now and then.  If you remain calm you may begin to notice that the water is actually supporting you in flotation.  Then you walk back to a shallower area.  Next you begin to move around lifting your feet from the bottom feeling the flotation as you curl your legs up.  Later you start moving your arms and legs in different configurations and occasionally hold your breath to dip your head below the surface.  Each time you feel the water through your hair and over your skin as you glide in different directions through the water.  Soon you start to realize that certain configurations of your body and movement of your arms, legs, torso and head take you to different parts of the lake at different speeds in different manners.  All the while you never move too fast in one direction without being aware of where you came from and how you got there.  You can always go back and check.

Funny enough throughout this entire scenario it is probably obvious that this person is learning how to swim.  Finding swimming.  This person was the teacher and the learner or the explorer and the adventurer.  When learning occurs as an exploration there is some ownership of the activity.  Learning actually occurs faster and more completely.  Oddly, tension is part of the whole process, in a way.  Each time something new happens; feet leave the bottom, head goes below the surface, arms move forward, legs curl up, speed changes, there is a bit of tension.  But when it is slow and occurs while supported there is learning.

Although this pandemic is creating a lot of tension for a lot of people, if those of us whom are not feeling so much distress can be the comfortable, calm water supporting others while they find new ways to swim maybe we can all create an environment that doesn’t need caution signs to prevent drowning.    Because if some can remain peaceful and calm and support those that are learning and exploring we all just might be able to find some balance.  And when there are strongly opposing elements creating the tension we can all learn because we all feel supported.