The other day my daughter’s dad stopped by and left behind a grocery bag with some Doritos, toothpaste and half a sandwich. I looked in the bag and somewhere in the recesses of my thought processes I registered the half sandwich and that it would need to be refrigerated. An hour later, after I had done 1346 things I saw the bag again but this time I only registered the chips and toothpaste. The next day I moved the bag, at which point in time I saw the sandwich, and I felt profound sadness. I was struck by images of Doug having a happy ol’ day zipping around, grabbing some snacks and then jauntily going back later for the rest of his tasty treat and, well finding it all warm and growing invisible poisons. It was like watching a bully knock down a kid’s triple decker ice cream cone that they had waited all week for and spent their allowance on. And I could have stopped it Friend. I could have stopped this senseless tragedy before it happened. If only I had been less distracted, taken immediate action. “Oh no!” I yelped and covered my face with my hand and just then my daughter walked around the corner before I could avert her gaze. “Now I am sad about the sandwich” she looked at me forlorn, with moisture gathering in her eyes as I explained. Are we are talking about a very average food item here, not a sandwich made by a world renowned culinary master containing a rare fish oil promising to cure cancer and shaped like Elvis? Why yes, Friend. Yes we are.
Today my daughter needed a ride to the bookstore. Assuming I would be working straight through she asked her dad to take her. By now Doug had learned about the sandwich and was working through the stages of grief. He said yes. Then, in a plot twist I was struck with a craving for a smoothie and offered to take my daughter on a happy little drive in the sunshine and stop at the book store on the way. Which of course led to immediate tears. Cute happy time with mom meant Dad, all alone, not laughing and merrymaking. But then Mom time is harder to come by. It was Sophie’s choice. We can all go! I tried to talk her down. You and I can go later. And then I just bought her a horse.
Because like I am hearing from so many of you, my tolerance for loss is at an all time low. And all the little things feel emotionally charged.
When I was a little girl of say five years old I had a collection of stuffed animals. One glorious day our neighbour Mrs. Rogers invited my sister and I over to her place for a surprise, and gifted us an entire garbage bag full of stuffies. My mom wasn’t super thrilled. I am pretty sure they were kind of cheap and old, but my eyes were wide and full of glee. Until bedtime that is. It was my routine at bedtime to hug and kiss my animals goodnight, because that is what a good stuffy mommy does. But with the advent of 30 new ones this was a big job. And some nights I would just look at my bed with exhausted longing, and think the evil thought, What if I just hugged half of them? Just this once. Then they would look at me with their glossy eyes and their cute fluffy faces. Don’t you love us anymore? And I just couldn’t bear their sad little hearts. So I dug deep. I found a reserve of strength. I pushed on until I collapsed on the blankies knowing that everyone was cared for.
We long to protect the innocent. It can be painful and terrifying to experience the fragility of those you love. To stand by helpless while ruin stalks its prey, while hopes are dashed and ice creams are smashed. So what do we do with all of that grief? When the fluffy faces in need outnumber the hours in a day and the need is a 9 on the Richter scale.
The idiom don’t cry over spilled milk tells us that it is pointless, futile even to grieve or expend emotions on a problem that cannot be fixed. Well that’s an idiotic idiom, if you ask me. Because feelings happen.We can’t un-feel a feeling any better than we can get the spilled milk back into the carton. Feelings tell us we need something; a hug, or comfort or reassurance or encouragement. It doesn’t actually help to ignore them.
There are absolutely things that we can do with our thoughts and ideas around things that hurt us, so that we heal from the hurt effectively. We can practice choosing thoughts that serve us and give less power to ideas of blame and fault and failure, such as I am a loser for spilling the milk. I am clumsy. I am bad at milk pouring and drinking. I don’t deserve milk.
We can learn to understand ourselves and meet our needs proactively so that when the milk spills it’s just one glass of hurt, not a barrel or a lake.
The way we experience feelings however is like a movie. The movie still plays even though the milk has stopped spilling. We can work with the movie, we can clean up the milk so it doesn’t run into the computer or create bacteria on the counter. Blah blah blah, I’m going to need some gooey chocolate chip cookies with this metaphor pretty quick.
Right now we are collectively suffering from world wide acute vulnerability. We feel exposed, and helpless planet wide. For many of us the milk has been spilling faster than we can clean it up. The thing about pandemics and natural disasters and political unrest is that the stakes are high and the uncertainty is relentless and the emotions are jumping up and down octaves at the speed of sound. Strain is exhausting and even good things feel overwhelming.
So ya, seeing your loved one lose a sandwich feels like The Notebook and a small kindness feels like someone just saved your baby from a Dingo (pro tip —buy shares in Kleenex, it’s the new TP).
We still need to do the healthy healing things as best we can. Now more than ever. If you need help getting your emotions, stress level, love life back on track give me a ring. I feel moved to tears when we change this whole feeling, needing, thinking game for the win. When we are able to heal an old hurt, or answer a present one so that it doesn’t get stuck in the pain and suffering cycle, and give birth to new hurts. When you call me up to say you aced the meeting, or turned around the difficult client, talked to your family member for the first time in 6 years, or let yourself fall in love. Let’s keep up this amazing work together, for the love of all things good and beautiful. We are capable of creating an emotionally safe space within us, that isn’t upheaved by worldly events, in which we can rest and heal.
But we also need to remember that there is an inherent light within all of us, and in the space of that light we are invulnerable. We are something more. In its power loss dissolves and becomes meaningless. Wholeness eclipses lack. And LOVE embraces loneliness, separation, isolation. We can reach for this light in one another. It feels wildly better than leaving our loved ones in the lion’s den without a vaccination or a mask. Or our stuffies to cry themselves to sleep at night. This light can reach the places that we can’t get to, and the faces that we can’t see.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am making a sandwich for the horse.
— Love Erin
P.S. 2021 I am bringing on the love. I’ll be featured in a podcast all about better loving, from healing your broken heart to intentional dating to creating a relationship that thrives, and I’ll be launching a sister site for all of you relationship and love enthusiasts, with all kinds of insights and offerings. Stay tuned!
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.