Now that I am more grounded and my faith in human beings is restored, I can’t help but muse on that truism: what you focus on, expands.
I won’t repeat my rants of the past few days. But it’s fair to say that, at my worst, I have been fully prepared to despise my entire postcode.
But slowly, as I knew it would, my anger has softened and transformed. I can breathe deeply again. And it’s now possible to sink in to the notion of sanctuary and lean towards what I truly want for myself and my family.
I want to tell you something. Earlier this week, I came across the most awful story imaginable in my Instagram feed. My heart imploded. I could not honestly imagine anything worse. And after howling my guts out for that poor family, my first rational thought was: how can I help? I was so grateful to discover that some thoughtful soul had established a means to do just that. So with prayers of empathy and compassion, I gave something small in the hope it would join all the other small offerings and provide time and space for three very vulnerable souls to heal.
The next day, I checked back in. I was so hopeful the campaign had met its goal. And it was so heartening to see that not only had they surpassed it, they had doubled it and counting!
And then. And then I stumbled across a comment that stuck in my throat so hard it hurt. A young woman shared that she too had recently suffered a loss. This in itself wasn’t uncommon: many people who donated shared that they had recently lost a child or other beloved and that they shared the bereaved family’s pain. But instead of finding an opportunity for empathy, this woman complained that the cause had raised too much money. She felt the target was inappropriately high to begin with and that no family had the right to ask for so much money “just sit around and do nothing” (although the paraphrasing here is mine, you understand). She implored all those donating to stop. And if not, opined that the decent thing for the family do would be to pay for the funeral then donate all remaining funds to charity.
In a quiet moment, I could feel compassion for this young woman. She had lost her partner to cancer and was now struggling as a single working mum to a little girl. Her obvious jealousy of the outpouring of support given to this family suggested to me that she was doing it tough, without the love and support she clearly needed. I sent her a quiet prayer and wished she had used her indignant feelings to start her own campaign rather than direct her anger at a devastated family in their most vulnerable time.
Then the next day, I got angry. BOY did I get angry. Luckily, I have a modicum of self-awareness and was in no way tempted to get online and torch her. I wasn’t even tempted to leave her a helpful suggestion as I knew there would be no way I could word it such that it that would not hurt her further.
But I certainly did FUME. I mean. What a surprise! Another human acting like a total douche! With such a unique litany of complaints! Like: Oh! Boo fucking hoo, I see you having so much and it makes me feel like I don’t have enough! You do not deserve it and I surely do! How dare you make me feel less than! You are so bad for doing that!! So here’s what I am not going to do: I am not going to ask myself what it is in me that just got triggered, maybe even with the help of a trusted friend of mental health professional. Oh no. Instead I am going to blame you. And I am going to tell you what I think you should do! Because YOU are the one who has to change. And if you don’t do it I will tell everyone what a bad person they are and they will all believe me!
WOW. How so very rare and unique. I mean. I wouldn’t know an entire neighbourhood like that. No way, not at all.
Later that evening, I shared with my husband what I’d observed. “That silly woman totally missed the point!” I swaggered over my glass of wine. “I mean, I get it: she was in pain herself. But what she didn’t see was that all it was, was one kind person giving people an opportunity to help. Because thousands and thousands of people, like me, read the story and were so shattered that their first instinct was what can I do to help?!”
And as my husband responded with his usual thoughtful and measured grace – about how, from a bird’s eye view, it wasn’t always that simple to prioritise the needs of one small family because there are always so many people who are just as deserving of help – the penny dropped and I actually felt the truth of what I had said sink in.
It was right there in front of my eyes. And it was simpler than I’d wanted to believe. One small family was in the worst pain imaginable. And thousands and thousands of people, upon hearing their story, opened their hearts and felt their pain and wanted to know how they could help. Thousands and thousands. Of good people.
People just like me.
And here I was, focusing on the one person who was unhappy with the situation. Justifiably by the sound of it. But choosing to behave in a way that lacked empathy and dignity.
I let her become the story of the response to a call for help.
Out of thousands and thousands.
And in that moment, I saw how the peculiar constellation of stuff that is my world view was in perfect alignment with that skewed story. The exception that proved my rule, as it were.
It was hard not to be bowled over by all the examples that came flooding back. All the times, I’d gravitated to the one unhappy person in the room. All the ways in which I’d denied myself happiness because not every single person was pleased.
The eldest-daughter-people-pleaser-dies hard, doesn’t she?
But of course she never dies.
I’m not going to stop viewing the world this way. Because that is my ancient, deeply-programmed first response.
And I now see that it’s not my job to hate this about myself. It’s not my job to try and change it. Or hate myself for trying. Because I’d inevitably fail.
My work here is to do the one thing that the poor woman who lost her partner did not quite have it in her to do. The one thing that the insane old lady who lives three doors down from me and my mean-spirited angry neighbour and my psychologically-disturbed other neighbour don’t have it in them to do.
My job is to hold that part of me that thinks the world is a broken and awful place because one person in thousands is unhappy. My job is to cradle that part, which feels small and sad and deep in my belly, and hold it firmly but tenderly. My job is to say, I see you. I love you. You are a foce for good in the world. But you know, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. And you know what? That’s OK. That’s not about you. Sure, you can’t pretend the unhappy ones don’t exist. But you don’t have to listen to them. And there are so many happy, helpful ones out there. A tiny number of those are actually your people too. And that’s enough. Truly, it is.
And suddenly, the all haters in my world have diminished to a tenth of their psychical size.
And my world is exactly how I like it to be. Full of flawed but fabulous people who truly feel things and just want to help.