"An arctic cold wave hit portions of the East Coast today. It was 38 below zero in Independence Valley," the NPR announcer spoke in his oh-so-serious tone.
NPR is the one fixed radio station in my car. Often, I drive and completely ignore it, soothed by the voices in the background. I know I don't have to worry about what's going on in the larger world because they're doing that for me. But today, the phrase "38 below zero" reached out of the dashboard and pinched me.
Who decided what "zero" is? When they did, did they have any concept that there could possibly be anything lower than it? I remember sitting in an elementary classroom learning about negative numbers and trying to wrap my consciousness around that. Are there people who see that as a purely mathematical concept or is there some philosophical importance inherently woven into the definition of negativity, loss of positivity. When I was a kid, knowing that there was some ultimate rock bottom beneath me was somewhat comforting. I knew that no matter how hard things got, regardless of the hell in which I was currently residing, eventually the freefall would stop. I would be caught by some kind of floor beneath me. It might be hard or rocky or hurt like a sonofabitch, but I would stop falling. And at that point, the only place to go would be up.
I love math. The "one right answer" part of it, the part where you can work your equations backwards and forwards to prove that you've achieved that one right answer, the logical progression of it, the ability to reach a perfect point where all of the loose ends are tied up, I love that. There is no ambiguity in elementary mathematics. 1+1 always equals two. I might not have always known the best way to get the correct answer, but I was certain there was a correct answer. It was only a matter of time until I could figure it out. Ahh, there was some order in my world.
Is it that my idea of ground zero was underestimated? If the mathematical/meteorological founding fathers had it to do over again, would they move 0 degrees lower or would they be okay with recording temperatures below where they ever thought they could fall? If you move 0 degrees lower, how do you ever know you've moved it far enough? I can't keep moving my rock bottom lower, but the thought of sinking below that is more frightening. Where does the momentum of falling stop so that we can change direction and begin moving upward again? Without a surface on which to land, where do I rest?
For me, the answer lies in submitting completely to the falling. Keeping my body still within the fall instead of struggling against it and simply feeling the sensation of weightlessness and my own discomfort. If I focus outside of myself, I can see images rushing by, choices I could have made differently and will make differently on my next journey upward. I can see opportunities for do-overs and reconciliation. At some point, there aren't any landmarks for me to tell how far I've fallen, and oddly, this is a relief. Maybe I haven't gone as far as I thought. Perhaps I'm only rewinding a bit so that I can understand this portion of my life a little better before moving on.
I'm beginning to understand that I don't need a rock bottom anymore. Wherever I find myself is just fine. It might be frightening or unhappy or exciting, but the only way to change it is to try and understand it. Like everyone else, I prefer not to suffer, but simply enduring the situation I'm in while waiting to hit the bottom won't change that. I am finding that it is much more empowering to examine my surroundings and let go of the fear I have that I can't change them.