As if there was not enough bad news in our world, a small school in Uvalde, Texas, stabbed us in the heart and sent us into incomprehensible grief. Once again, we feel helpless to help – another inhumanity to remind us of how big and bad our world can be. It's a lot. And, it can feel like too much.
As individuals, it's easy and natural to become overwhelmed and lose perspective. After all, we don't have the power to impact events far beyond our scope of influence. Alone, we can feel defeated and without hope. And yes, Uvalde left me feeling that way.
At the same time, we know that our power to help others and create change rests on helping ourselves to rise above despair. From a perspective of helpless grief – we can't possibly uplift others. So, I'm recalling a few simple moments that brightened my days and my perspective:
Fluff, Feathers, Flight: A couple of months ago I watched out my kitchen window as a pair of Stellar Jays carried twigs and bits of string to the top of a downspout under the eave of my roof. The results were an architectural and artistic triumph – a cozy nest protected from rain and wind. I waited with them and watched as they flew in and out, each taking a turn at nest sitting. One day, when mom had flown from the nest, I stood at the window and watched – eventually rewarded with a glimpse of a tiny beak poking out from the careful chaos of the nest. I was thrilled with each sighting and discovered two tiny Jays. I worried when the weather turned cold or it rained – as if I could do anything to make it safe for them. And because they were perfectly designed by Mother Nature, the babies survived the weather challenges and soon were standing on spindly legs and thrusting out tiny wings with dreams of flight. (I worried they might fall and put a mound of blankets on the ground beneath the nest.) Then one day, the nest was empty; no baby birds were on my safety net - and I felt oddly proud. To add to my misplaced maternal joy, the little ones remained near home, and I now spot them at my feeders almost daily – their top knots bobbing and feathers shimmering bright, lapis blue in the sun.
Wild, Wonderful: Our kitchen window looks out on a quiet road and a vacant half-acre of cedar and pine trees. It's where a community of fat squirrels live when they're not digging for peanuts they buried in my yard last winter. I've got feeders set up for them and for the wild birds we watch as the seasons change. I know that we get other visitors who come under the cover of night to eat fruit I leave on a stump in the yard. We also have fox, bear, and mountain lions haunting our neighborhood – seldom seen and always respected. But last week we had a special visit in the bright light of morning. A healthy doe wandered out from the trees and onto my wildlife buffet. My husband and I froze in the window and watched her – wary but determined – eat the pieces of apple and carrots on the stump and then lap up birdseed I'd scattered on the ground. She politely stood and posed so that I could take a photo and then sauntered off like a graceful ballerina into the woods.
Main Street: Our nearest city is Placerville (population about 10,000). It's 14 miles down the mountain from our home. It's where we go to dine out or experience the calm and quaint offerings of a city that's not too small or so big it makes me want to run back up the hill. Placerville is steeped in Western history – Native Americans, cowboys, loggers, the Pony Express. It's also a magnet for interesting people and practices. There's a hardware store that never fully stepped out of the 1800s. Uneven wood floors, shelves, tables, and showcases that speak to its roots that were planted in 1856. It's packed with items for country living – from tools to housewares. The aisles are narrow, a labyrinth of delights for tourists and a resource for locals. It's a landmark on a main street lined with landmarks – storied watering holes – like the Liar's Bench – and café's inside century-old shops offering nouvelle cuisine, cheese and wine shops, art galleries, embroidery, knitting, and old fashioned candy shops. Along with its historic tradition is an unusual practice that seems to have sprung spontaneously from the roots of the city. Cars necessarily drive slowly along the narrow two-lane street. But if a pedestrian even looks as if he or she wants to cross the street, all traffic halts. It doesn't matter where – at a corner, in the middle of the block. Drivers see a pedestrian, put on the brakes, smile, and wave the walker across the street. There's no sign prompting drivers to give way to pedestrians and no city ordinance that I can find. It's simply a home-grown practice adopted by locals and visitors alike – a kindness that's become tradition in a little city founded on tradition.
I'm offering these modest examples of places that I find peace and delight in the midst of soul-crushing news that's delivered daily. I think it's important that we allow ourselves to acknowledge the everyday, simple gifts at our fingertips. Small experiences that are readily available and free for us to enjoy. It's easy and natural for compassionate people to feel the pain of others. That empathy is what keeps us human and gives us power to help when we can. But often, we are unable to make things right. Events are too distant, too massive, impossible to affect as caring individuals. Making a conscious effort to visit places of pleasure and positive feelings heals us to handle the challenges of being human.
I found a pretty cool resource to help 'unhook' from the pressures of too much, too-often bad news. The World Health Organization created an illustrated booklet on the topic and made it available in scores of languages. It's free to download (I did), and it just might help someone. You can get it HERE – and from me, you get my gratitude. Having you to share my thoughts with lightens my load of worry, and your feedback restores my belief in humankind (Emphasis on the 'kind').
Thanks for sticking with me through these extraordinary times - and for letting me know how you feel - I appreciate hearing from you and your own stories are enlightening and touching. How do you handle the big picture world and stay happy in your own small world? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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