The Big Things, the Little Things, and Telling the Difference

I shattered my passenger side rearview mirror on my car. I might have been driving through a mob of marauding hooligans set on destroying passenger door rearview mirrors of any who were courageous enough to drive into the mob to save small children. Or… I might have had a slight mistake with a mailbox. Who’s to say really? Life happens so fast and all.

Not having it is more a nagging reminder than it is a life-threatening situation. Let’s hope that’s the case, anyway, since it’s been about a month and I’ve yet to make an appointment to get it fixed. I don’t know who puts mailboxes on curbs close to the road anyway. It seems a bit short-sighted and “old-timey”. BTW the mailbox was not at all injured, dented, or otherwise affected – so I didn’t even get to feel guilty about that. Nope, the nagging reminder is simply the piece of black plastic blankly staring at me from the opposite side of the car every time I glance over before changing lanes. It has told me how much I actually do that, which is a good thing, I suppose.

It happens. You have places to go, people to see, things to do, and it happens. That thing that throws off your timing, your rhythm, your schedule. Sometimes it happens because your mind is on other things. Sometimes it happens because someone else has their mind on other things. Sometimes it happens because you meant to do one thing and did another. Sometimes it happens because you turned left instead of right or right instead of left. Sometimes it happens because you stopped investing in your health, your job, your relationship. Sometimes it happens because someone else stops doing those things in their lives. Sometimes it happens because you simply live one day into the next and the next and the next and you simply stopped noticing anything. Sometimes it happens without any “because of’s.” We may think that makes it harder, but I’m not certain a value judgment of which is harder is all that helpful.

“It” is that thing that confronts us, confounds us, conflicts us and leaves us reeling in small ways or in ways too enormous to get our heads or hearts around. We’re left wondering how to go on and whether “normal” will ever be recognizable again. There are sayings that seek to help us. You know… when you fall off a horse you get back on it again; you can’t keep a good man down (not sure if you can a woman); when life gives you lemons, make lemonade; pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; God doesn’t give us more than we can handle; they aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, the light is on but nobody’s home… oh wait, those are for something different *snort*. Actually, one of my favorites for very specific situations when someone is having a rough day: “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” I believe the spirit behind most quotes is meant for the best, often to lighten our load with some humor or broaden our perspective, and sometimes they do. There are those other times, however, when humor or perspective or the quick quip only adds to the burden. Robert Fulghum writes a story in his book “Uh-Oh: Observations from both sides of the refrigerator door”, that ends with this quote:

“A lump in the oatmeal, and a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump. One should learn the difference.”

There are days I believe we’ve lost sight of that difference and that everything has become the most dramatic and intense situation we can imagine. The shattering of my rearview mirror is not the same as the shattering of lives in a synagogue or a bar and grill or in raging fires in California. It has a name, the thing that happens when we lose the ability to discern big “its” from small “its” – Compassion Fatigue. Generally speaking, when human beings have been exposed to so much hurt and so many catastrophic incidents and so many mass shootings and so many extreme natural disasters and so many children in life-suppressing and destructing situations of war and famine and migration, we simply “turn off”. We don’t necessarily turn off the news or the media or the bombarding information, we simply proactively or reactively and sometimes without notice, turn off our feelings, our awareness, and more particularly, our caring. There are times we must do that, to breathe, to re-ignite our hope, to simply live. AND the key to our future, we must intentionally come back from those “breaks to breathe” and rest and re-create, in order to breathe life and hope back into those same overwhelming situations that will not change unless we do. We don’t all get Compassion Fatigue at the same time; that’s good news. We can stand in the gap for each other when we each need breaks to continue our investment in healing, and hope, and living the world into a better place. The key is to be aware of where we are, what we need, and what the world needs from our gifts of life and help and hope.

One of these days I’ll get my car to the dealer to replace the shattered rearview mirror from the marauders or the menace of the mailbox on the curb. Until then I’ll keep most of my focus on the road ahead with some intermittent glances to my right before changing lanes. Perhaps “it” will remind me to stay focused on the world around me, the lives with whom I may share a spirit of hope, and a world which needs our energy of compassion and kindness to experience a minute, or maybe two, of grace!