By Rev. Alexa Eisenbarth
The pianist at my church called me, out of the blue, and asked if I could unlock the church for her to practice the piano in thirty minutes. “Of course,” I responded. “See you in a few!” As soon as I hung up the phone, it was like I had never had the conversation. I completely forgot that I had talked with her, immediately.
I got in my car about fifteen minutes later, drove to the post office, and picked up the dog from daycare. Sitting at a stoplight an hour and a half after the phone call, I remembered. The shame and embarrassment flattened me out like one of those cartoon anvils. I was mortified.
Just beyond the mortification, though, was this admission: something’s not right with me.
After googling ‘short term memory loss’ in my own brain, catastrophizing by coming up with ridiculous WebMD-type answers: (very) early-onset dementia, aneurysm, brain tumor, etc., I returned to a tool that has provided a helpful path for understanding myself: the Enneagram. The most valuable part of the Enneagram for me is the growth lines, or the ‘direction of integration’ for each type. When my type moves in the direction of integration, or growth, we become more spontaneous and joyful. The thing that’s been helpful about this is not only do I wait around for growth and integration, but the fact that I can be proactive about growth and integration by being spontaneous and cultivating joy.
The pandemic limited my options in these practices. For me, I’ve learned that I can plan for spontaneity (I know, I know, I’m a true planner): I can, typically, plan for a trip away, where there is unscheduled time, space for spontaneity built-in. Without the ability to travel safely with any regularity, this has become difficult. Each day is the same, and any spontaneity is a threat: new variants of the novel coronavirus, a spike in cases in my county, an unexpected death or crisis. The spontaneity available in this era is not joyful; it’s not freedom and delight. So, I haven’t made space for spontaneity because spontaneity right now is scary.
When the pianist called me, it was spontaneous. I hadn’t planned for it. It wasn’t in my scheduled activities, a task I could prepare for and expect. I have not been practicing for joyful, or even neutral, spontaneity. I have primarily been preparing for worst-case scenarios. My brain has not been practicing learning non-emergent spontaneous information and acting on it.
A lifelong friend had a baby in late February, and though we knew the baby was coming, we didn’t know exactly when she would be born. I didn’t know what her name would be. I didn’t know whether or not she would have her parents’ red hair. Her arrival was spontaneous. I delighted in her red hair, and I felt tremendous joy at learning her name. For the first time in a long time, I was able to integrate, at least a little bit, the part of myself that delights, that experiences joy in spontaneous good news, with the rest of myself.
As we emerge from this pandemic era, starting now, we will have to use parts of ourselves we haven’t used in some time. We will have to move in the direction of integration, rather than fragmenting ourselves for survival. And, in the meantime, we’ll need to offer ourselves a tremendous amount of grace in our flailing attempts at a return to any semblance of normalcy.
Rev. Alexa Eisenbarth serves as pastor of Orting United Methodist Church in Orting, Washington, where she is also tasked to engage the community in creative expressions of faith and church.