Years ago, one of my daughters gave me a beautiful book, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I wasn’t feeling well at the time and the daily readings lifted me. Today I flipped to a passage that reflected on feelings of being “spaced out” and “out of kilter”. Breathnach attributed this being uncentred within. “The centre is not holding,” is how she put it.

Talk of centres not holding made me think of Joan Didion (1934-2005). In recent months, I watched a documentary, by her nephew, called The Centre Will Not Hold. I sensed gravity in the words, interpreted centre to mean inner strength. The frailty of her physical body, in later years, brought to mind the final tenacious leaf that clings to its branch in spite of November winds. The film walks the viewer through Didion’s remarkable career as journalist and author, and the personal tragedies of having survived both her husband and daughter. Winter cruelly buffeted Didion, but for her to have carried on and written books like The Year of Magical Thinking, I can’t help thinking her centre did hold.

The first few lines of Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem read, “The centre was not holding. In was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled even the four-letter words they scrawled.” I knew the documentary title was borrowed from somewhere. Everything is on the brink of falling apart.

I continued searching for an earlier reference to centres holding and discovered The Second Coming, a poem by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Aptly named and at the core of our feeling off kilter today. What follows is the first verse, a vessel complete enough to hold our times.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

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