Things Fell Apart; The Center Did Not Hold. What Now, Though?

Things Fell Apart; The Center Did Not Hold. What Now, Though?

Complete surrender without my former center doesn't mean that I'm escaping anything, that I ignore life's struggles and give myself to another kingdom. No, it means that this, too, is the voice that takes me one stop closer, towards taking life by the throat.

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falconer cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold"

- W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

These words have been uttered, and perhaps changed utterly by the fact that they have often been appropriated to modern-day political contexts. Tony Blair, for example, used the term to decry the risks of populism overtaking Europe. The often alluded to poem has been overused for politics, but it has also been used extensively for famous books in the English language, such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Nick Tabor of The Paris Review called the poem the "most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English."

But will that stop me from taking and pillaging from the poem for my own gain? Absolutely not. Because what the "center" is different for each society or each individual person. In 2008, Elyn Saks published a memoir titled The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, a book journaling Saks's experience through chronic schizophrenia. The center, at a core, is a sense of stability, which is different for each individual.

We all have a center, and we all know the saying to hold onto the constants in our lives that won't change. And what happens if that center breaks down, as has been the case in my life of late? My friends and I have at times likened my experience to watching a home be destroyed by a tsunami, not being able to do anything to stop it, and being left with the pieces after it's done.

Life changes, but as I like to see it, life evolves. In the words of psychiatrist Abigail Brenner: there are "six recognizable stages accompanying any transition: loss, uncertainty, discomfort, insight, understanding, and integration." But first, after the center does not hold, comes a time of unknowing. This is when you find out who you really are peeled beneath all your masks and layers.

I had a conversation with my minister, Stephen, about my recent commitment in surrendering and trusting in the will of God and put him in the driver's seat rather than try control things on my own. There was one question I had fundamentally in my confusion about the quest.

"If I'm going to trust God and put him in the driver's seat, how do I know what God wants?"

The answer I received, from Stephen's response and my own thinking about the question, is that you don't know when you surrender. That's kind of the point, and it took me a lot of pondering and meditation to make my peace with that. I know from my past that God's ways and plans make sense in the future - it just takes time, and takes a whole lot of patience. Above all, it takes belief and faith.

Naturally, the annoying insistence of many believers not only of the Christian faith but of all religions and faiths arises. "Things should be fine, as long as you trust enough. Things should be fine, as long as you believe enough." And I've tried that notion, but it is a drastic oversimplification of any situation of hard circumstance. The fact is that it's okay to be lost, it's okay be venture in the grey area and the uncertainty once that center is broken.

Sure, maybe the center did not hold. Mine didn't and yours might have broken apart too. Our senses of stability gave way to consuming chaos, but now, especially now, being comfortable in the chaos, in the lost-ness of life is imperative. I need to remember the words of one of my more favorite writers, freelancer Brianna Wiest, that "good things tend to happen when you stop trying so hard to make them happen...The work you end up doing in your life is almost never Plan A; it's Plan B, which is what you started doing when you gave up on what didn't come naturally." I find, much like Wiest, that the more I try to do something and force it, the more it eludes me. Also, the advice that comes to "just not think about" something is very counterintuitive - that's all I can focus on.

Without a center, it's tough to force yourself in a direction. After all, where are you going? "Work becomes hard when we have to force ourselves to do it, and we have to force ourselves when it's inherently uninteresting or unappealing," Wiest continues. Her article is oriented on achieving success through a law of least effort, that the best things in life come to us when we least expect them to. I am not a very success-oriented person (and ironically I've found myself the most successful doing so), but she has a point when she says that "success starts with us...We don't have to force it. We don't have to compete for it. We simply have to respond to it."

I would like to echo the words of my peer, Noah Lorey, when he wrote that sometimes he felt in college and writing for Odyssey, that "I feel as if I'm drifting on an open sea." The drifting feeling Noah describes is "not [being] bogged down by a storm or in danger of drowning, just drifting relentlessly. It's a sort of gentle unease." Yes, I'm proud that Noah added to Yeats-ian oxymoronic fashions, as the "gentle unease" rings much like the famous phrase at the aforementioned Yeats poem, "slouching towards Bethlehem."

It rings against my natural inclination of some sort of heroic or even biblical adventure into the promised land. Instead, at all points now, I am just drifting and just slouching towards where I'm going next, and that doesn't mean daily rigors aren't hard or overwhelming. By all means, they are and are still. My internal existential struggles, still, are not very visible to the outside observer and person who engages with me on a daily basis.

Does complete surrender to my high God mean that I lay back and "just chill" as I lead my life? No. There's just another voice now, something in the back of my mind, that comes from the heart, that'll tell me to lay off when I've been too hard or demanding on a friend, that tells me to pursue something interesting my friend shared about their personal life a little farther, that pushes me to explore what I'm doing and what's meaningful more and more.

When Robert Frost was asked if poetry was a way of escaping life, he responded the opposite: "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat." Complete surrender without my former center doesn't mean that I'm escaping anything, that I ignore life's struggles and give myself to another kingdom. No, it means that this, too, is the voice that takes me one step closer, towards taking life by the throat.

Popular Right Now

The ABCs Of Greek Life

Greek Life From A to Z

When you enter into Greek life, it's like having to learn a whole new language, but it's a language that everyone comes to love. So here's the Greek alphabet, from Alpha Chi to Zeta.

A is for Alum

The members of our chapter who have graduated. These members are a range of ages and can participate in all kinds of alumna events.

B is for Bid Day

The best day of the year when our chapters get to accept a new pledge class of members.

C is for Chapter

Our weekly meetings where we learn about sisterhood and philanthropy events, date parties, etc., as well as take care of any sort of chapter business.

D is for Date Parties

Some of the best nights of the year are getting dressed up with your friends and your dates and attending date parties.

E is for Executive Board

The people that make the chapter run smoothly. The chapter wouldn't function without your president, VP, finance, standards, etc.

F is for Fried Friday

The best day of the week at the house. When the chefs cook up chicken, mozzarella sticks, fried pickles, french fries, corn dogs, fried mac n cheese, fried corn, fried green tomatoes and whatever else your heart desires.

G is for Greek Week

One of the most competitive and most fun weeks of the year. Spent playing dodgeball, whiffle ball, doing dance-offs, and more!

H is for Hand Sign

No matter what sign it is, we love to throw what we know!

I is for Initiation

The day that we get to cross from new member to active member of our chapter.

J is for Just Here So I Don't Get Fined

As much as we love to hang out with our sisters, sometimes life gets in the way and we wish we had more free time. Sometimes we're only attending an event so that we don't get fined.

K is for Kick-Off

Of course, all college students love football but game day is something special when you're Greek. From getting ready with your sisters to eating at the house to tailgating with the fraternities, it's all a part of the game day experience when you're Greek.

L is for Letters

Our identity within the Greek community.

M is for Mom

Our house mom can never take the place of our real mom but she is great for lending an ear and helping solve any issues that come up within the sorority.

N is for Norts

Part of the "sorority girl uniform." We can't get enough of our Nike shorts

O is for Organized

With constantly running between classes, chapter meetings, and other events, you become extremely organized when you join a Greek organization.

P is for Philanthropy

One of the biggest reasons many people choose to go Greek. We love to spend our time, money and energy towards a cause that's close to our heart such as Ronald McDonald House, Make a Wish Foundation and CASA.

Q is for Queso

Okay, maybe a bit of a stretch but it's true! Ordering Fuzzy's to the sorority house or going out to eat at Moe's or Chuy's are not uncommon activities. We love chips and queso!

R is for Recruitment

The craziest week of the year where the chapter decides which PNM's would be the best fit for the chapter and new members run home to your chapter at the end of the week!

S is for Sisterhood

What a sorority is really all about. The friends you make in your sorority are some of the most interesting and genuine girls you'll meet!

T is for T-Shirt Tuesday

The one weeknight that tons of people go out. Whether you're at Harry's bar or Rounders, T-shirt Tuesday is sure to be a blast.

U is for Unique Experience

No two people have the same experience with Greek life. Whether you're the most involved person, just in it for the sisterhood, or you're fairly uninvolved, your experience will be different than everyone else's. You get out what you put in, as the saying goes.

V is for Vineyard Vines

One of many popular brands among sorority women and fraternity men alike.

W is for Wine Wednesday

Another fan favorite of the week is Wine Wednesday. Whether you're celebrating at Gallette's or from the comfort of your own dorm or apartment, Wine Wednesday is awesome.

X is for XL T-Shirts

Another part of the "sorority girl uniform". The bigger the T-shirt, the comfier and more confident you'll be. It's science.

Y is for Youth

Many philanthropies work with children, which is great because we love to spend time with the youth in and around Tuscaloosa!

Z is for Zero Sleep

When you're taking 14-18 credits, working, in a Greek organization and you're involved with several other organizations it's easy to see why we never get our full 8 hours of sleep. We're always going and we're fueled by coffee and a passion for whatever it is we're doing on and around campus.

Cover Image Credit: UA Panhellenic

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

This One’s For Africa


Read through to the end for an amazing Toto reference.


It's now been a week since I stepped foot on the African continent for the first time in my life. I first visited Johannesburg, where my dad and I spent a day on an 'apartheid tour.'

This tour consisted of visiting Shanty Town, one of the poorest communities in South Africa. The living conditions were indeed different. They had to steal electricity through homemade wires connected to the telephone poles. They had only a few porta potties for ten families to share. They had several spickets to obtain fresh water from. There was no heating in the houses, which were made from pieces of painted aluminum.

Such inconvenient circumstances have come from years of oppression towards black people in South Africa. It was incredibly sad to know that these problems still exist and that apartheid only ended so recently.

On the other hand, the people showed very little anger. Despite their living situations, the people of Shanty Town were so kind and welcoming. Everyone we passed smiled and waved, often even saying hello or asking about our wellbeing.

It brought some serious warmth to our hearts to see their sense of community. Everyone was in it together, and no man was left behind. They created jobs and opportunities for one another. They supported each other.

The next part of the day included a tour of Nelson Mandela's old house. We then made a trip to the Apartheid Museum.

Overall, Johannesburg did not disappoint. The city contains a rich history that human beings as a whole can learn a lot from. Johannesburg is a melting pot that still contains a multitude of issues concerning racism and oppression of certain cultures.

After two days in Johannesburg, my family made our way to Madikwe game reserve, where we stayed at Jaci's Lodge.

The safari experience was absolutely incredible. Quite cold (it's winter in Africa right now), but amazing enough to make up for the shivering. We saw all my favorite animals: giraffes galore, elephants, zebras, impalas, lions, hyenas, wildebeests, rhinos, you name it. While my favorite animal will always be the giraffe, I don't think any sighting could beat when two different herds of elephants passed through a watering hole to fuel up on a drink.

Finally on June 1st, I flew to George to start my program with Africa Media in Mossel Bay. On Sunday, we went on an 'elephant walk.'

The safari was certainly cool, but that makes the elephant walk ice cold. We got to walk alongside two male elephants - one was 25, the other 18. They were so cute!! We got to stroke their skin, trunk, and tusks. They had their own little personalities and were so excited to receive treats (fruits and vegetables) at the end of the journey.

My heart couldn't be more full. Africa, you have become my favorite continent. And it sure is going to take a lot to drag me away from you.

Related Content

Facebook Comments