I really don’t know what to do with myself lately.
I see recipe posts on Facebook and think, “How can people have an appetite?”
I get notifications about Broadway productions and comedy shows and think, “How can people laugh?”
Last weekend, as I browsed the remote control cars at the Disney Store with my son, he asked if he could let go of my hand and just walk next to me. I had to explain that no, he needed a good grip on my hand so that if someone tried to steal him, I could pull him away. I remembered my mother having that same conversation with me almost 3 decades ago. I suddenly felt the same gut-punching feeling I’m guessing she had when she explained it to me as she squeezed my tiny toddler hand in hers.
My Valentine’s Day gifts from my husband were a phenomenal vegan dinner, homemade chocolate cake, and concert tickets. I plastered a smile on my face as I chewed chickpeas, swirled sweet potato wedges through hummus sauce, and internally panicked about who would remember to read “On the Night You Were Born” to my children each year on their birthdays if something happened at the concert and I didn’t make it out.
Yesterday I started planning our summer vacation; as I was looking up attractions between Cleveland and Chicago, it popped into my head before I could block it- “Please let us all make it to summer vacation.”
When did we reach this point?
When did everyday tasks like dropping the kids off at school or entering a crowded theater become the catalysts for breaking out in a cold sweat?
When did we get to this crossroads of “I want to experience life” and “I think it’s best for me to reside under my bed for the rest of my days…?”
How do we navigate through this reality of fear, anxiety and helplessness?
Needless to say, I’ve been in a bit of a dark place. “Hey, I should blog today!” has been relegated to the depths of my mind, somewhere between “I should get up at 5:30am to exercise” and “I should give up wine for Lent.” Who the hell cares about a blog right now?
Yes, I follow current events. Yes, I vote. Yes, I take the time to educate my children about the correct way to function in society, to respect everyone with whom they come into contact, to express themselves in a healthy manner, to let us know if anything ever seems “off” to them. Well, moreso my son- for now, if my daughter keeps her pants off her head, eats the banana but not the peel, and doesn’t spit on anyone, I call it a good day. But we’ll get there with her, I promise.
But I still feel so…useless. How is anything I’m doing the least bit effective at changing an entire society?
Well, today I saw it.
As I was power-walking to the diaper aisle of the grocery store during lunch, I almost skidded into another shopper who, I noticed while trying not to plow into her, had the most stunning, unique hair color. Before I could stop myself I blurted out, “Wow. I love your hair. It’s so different and bright, it’s gorgeous!”
She stopped in her tracks and stared at me.
I stood there awkwardly balancing 2 boxes of applesauce and package of chicken sausage, very aware of how borderline creepy I must seem….but I didn’t get the weird, uncomfortable response I was expecting.
Beautiful, vibrant, kick-ass hair girl lit up with a beautiful, vibrant, kick-ass smile. “Thank you so much!” she replied. She was still smiling as we walked away from each other and continued our respective Supermarket Sweep-style grocery store runs.
I had made someone happy- I had brightened someone’s day. And all I did was almost hit them with a box of sausage and yell out a weird compliment.
On my way out I stopped at the coffee counter, ordered a latte and started chatting with the barista (I’m a talker- I don’t leave a restaurant without knowing my waiter’s entire life story and wishing his grandmother luck with her upcoming medical procedure). I said something about my kids and- boom- her face lit up as she started talking to me about her grandchildren. We shared a few laughs and wished each other a wonderful day, and she smiled warmly as I strolled out of the store with my diapers, my applesauce, my sausage, and my iced decaf coconut milk latte (I have ALL the allergies).
In the span of about 5 minutes, I had brightened two people’s days. It took zero effort.
On my way back to the office, I remembered something one of my college professors had told me in the wake of 9-11: “No matter what is happening in the world, life continues along the shores.”
So I guess I might as well start participating in it again.
Maybe the best treatment for this constant fear of the ugliest parts of this world is to spend our days pointing out the beauty in it. Maybe while we’re advocating for change on the highest levels, we can start by changing the way we interact on every level.
Because maybe when you give someone an unexpected bit of happiness, it turns their day around. Maybe it leads to them turning someone else’s day around. Maybe a chain of unexpectedly pleasant days makes people’s heads clearer. Maybe we stop thinking with fear, and start acting with reason and purpose. Maybe we start to see change on a higher level. Maybe.
Maybe I sound ridiculous and naïve.
But maybe not.
Maybe my efforts will make no difference. But I’m still going to keep lifting people up whenever I see an opportunity. I’m going to plan my summer vacation. I’m going to that concert. I’m going to keep donating to every GoFundMe that’s sent my way, and complimenting every cool hairdo I see. I’m going to keep offering to reach the highest shelf for people in the pasta aisle. I’m going to keep sharing my little life on this blog because hey, maybe it’s making someone’s day better. I’m going to keep taking my kids to donate clothes and toys so they understand that civilization depends on kindness and altruism. I’m going to keep leading them by example (although, no matter how many pairs of pants I DON’T put on my head, my daughter isn’t catching on yet)…
I guess at the end of the day, the best way to change the world is to be a part of it.
I guess improving something by being present is better than improving nothing by hiding in a corner.
I guess it’s time to start living.