A couple of weeks ago, the boys and I spent some time gathering up old books for a used book drive. For the better part of an hour, we sorted and organized, deciding which books to keep and which to put in the cardboard donation box. After we had filled a rather large box with baby books and forgotten books and read-too-many-times books, I felt a little clearer and lighter and cleaner.
For, oh, about 10 whole seconds.
Then this kind of spiraling wave started swirling. The more we cleared out and organized, the more I noticed all of the other “problem areas” that needed tending. Messes that come with raising young children, minor repairs that are an inevitable part of homeownership, and a list of improvements still waiting to be made.
All of these tiny little hassles that I hadn’t minded or even noticed a few minutes earlier– things that were sooooo not a big deal – spiraled into Really Big Problems. Unused toys in Jackson’s room, clothes that were too small in Teddy’s room, walls with chipped paint, an old medicine cabinet taking up space in the basement. All of these typical, everyday messes spiraled into something bigger and uglier than what they really were.
I suppose I could have done something about all of these little messes. I could have filled another box with things to take to Goodwill. I could have sorted through the boys’ closets or I could have cleaned out the garage.
Instead, I stopped packing in a huff, angrily ate a few cookies, and let all of these little messes turn into (what I perceived to be) Really Big Problems.
And things just kind of spiraled from there.
Have you ever noticed that there seem to be stretches of time when life moves rather smoothly, easily, and almost effortlessly? That there are these spiraling swirls – sometimes just a day or two; other times, if we’re lucky, a bit longer – that feel a little like walking in soft sand, with an almost magical sheen casting a warm and forgiving light onto everyday hassles? The messes and problems are still there, but somehow they seem manageable, more like adventures than obstacles.
And have you also noticed that there seem to be those stretches of time when our little messes morph into Really Big Problems, when everything seems to be just a little bit harder than it should be? That there are these spiraling swirls – sometimes just a day or two; other times, unfortunately, a bit longer– that feel a little like walking on a bed of gravel or broken seashells, causing a kind of wincing pain each step? A stressful work meeting or some unexpected expenses, a snarky conversation or a morning spent with extra-whiny children, too little sleep or too much to do all pile up and spiral out, until every breath feels a little like it’s filled with lead.
Have you noticed this? Have you noticed the spirals, the soft sand or the broken shells? (If you haven’t, well then, me neither. I’m totally speaking hypothetically here. If you have, well then, thank God I’m not the only one.)
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a problem solver and, when something is wrong, I like to do something to correct it. But when these prickly stretches crop up, I often find myself asking (okay, pleading): How do I stop the spiraling? How do I get back to the wide lens view, instead of looking at every mess and imperfection through a microscope? And, for the love of God, how do I get off this blasted prickly path that keeps cutting my feet so that I find the one with soft white sand?
I suppose, at these times, I should remind myself about the importance of mercy and forgiveness and kindness to others and ourselves. I should rely on optimistic attitudes about a positive outlook and self-love and patience.
But as much as I KNOW there is beauty in the ugliness, that Kindness matters most, that perfection and comparisons are a kind of bitter poison, and that there is grace in falling short, I also know that there is a difference between knowing a Truth and living a Truth and that sometimes we need to re-learn the Truth. And then re-learn it again. And again.
And maybe that comes from the simple act of holding out our hand to someone and saying, Things are a little prickly right now, my feet are a bit tender and the path is a little rough, but will you walk with me? Please?
Maybe it is in the acknowledgement that we actually begin to live the Truth, our Truth. And maybe it is in the asking that we learn and re-learn that Truth again and again. And maybe it is in the holding out a hand and reaching that we take the first step back to the softer sand.
(But, like I said, if you haven’t noticed these strange spiraling stretches, then me neither. Nope, definitely not. I am totally speaking hypothetically, of course.)
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