I understand that our God only gives us what we can handle. And that we are allowed to go through challenging circumstances that purpose to shape us and change us for the better. So apparently I can handle neck acne. I didn’t even know this was a thing, but it is, because I have it. Adult acne in traditional locations is already frustrating enough. I know because I’ve struggled with it forever. I have it under control right now for the most part, oddly enough via the use of blood pressure medication. Some smart people discovered that relief from acne was an after-market effect of a medication designed to lower blood pressure. And since I am guessing my blood pressure would have been sky-high for much of the last couple of years, I’m really getting a fantastic two-fer with this stuff. But back to the point, all of a sudden I have a persistent grouping of painful and unsightly pimples that play leapfrog from side to side on my neck. This is bullshit.
It’s the little things in life. It really is. I have a list a mile long of little things that fill me up and make me happy. The first sip of coffee each morning (a.k.a. the reason I open my eyes). A good book I can’t put down. A single flower in a bud vase. A hug. The moment I can ditch proper clothes for my soft pants. A belly laugh. Cozy socks. A great playlist. Justin Timberlake. No, he’s not a little thing, I got distracted somehow. Though it’s always a good thing when he pops into my stream of consciousness, reminds me of my priorities. But the little things can really get me down too, if I don’t approach them the right way. I have learned that I can handle big stuff, not easily, but handle it I do. Time and again. It’s the little things that can plague me and sour my mood, so badly that I can end up feeling very mal-adjusted to society.
I often don’t feel like I will survive the big stuff initially when it comes my way. And sometimes it takes a good long while to see the big stuff through. But I get the process now and have even come to respect it. In Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton reminds us that the root of the word crisis means to sift. When we are in a crisis, and faced with something big, everything else falls away. Only what is truly important remains, so that we can focus on the big thing and deal with it. During a crisis the little things don’t matter anymore, they don’t bug us. We can see our lives with stunning clarity all of a sudden, without the use of our readers or air traffic control guiding us in. The little things become so little, so inconsequential, they aren’t even a blip on the radar screen anymore.
Unless we’re not in a crisis. Then, the little things can seem like the big things. Our depth perception is out of whack when this happens. And it can be hard to recalibrate. I tried to read the cute little best-selling coffee table book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff years ago. The content didn’t take. I still sweat the small stuff.
For instance, it bothers me when the checker at the grocery store is swapping life stories with the person ahead of me as if the rest of us have six years to stand in line that day. Oh, and it also bothers me when it’s finally my turn (to pretend I don’t speak English while the cashier handles my purchases) and the person in line behind me pretends they don’t know how to wait in a line. I frequently find the person who should be behind me shoulder to shoulder with me instead and for the life of me I can’t figure out WTF they are all about. It’s happened to me so often that I started taking photos depicting these people and their disturbing proximity to me with my phone and sending them to friends. In part as a cry for help in putting up with these nutters and in part to say, “I told you this happens to me all the time and here’s proof, have a nice day now,” in case my peeps thought me an exaggerator. And also in part as a desperate and yes, passive-aggressive, attempt to guilt these people into stepping the fuck back. Please!
I sweat it when I pull up to a drive-thru and the employee at the establishment takes my money and asks me “so what kind of plans do you have for today?” No. Just, no. My itinerary feels like my own business to me, and not theirs, at all. What felt like getting a treat now feels like I’m paying for the unpleasant opportunity to be interrogated. Who is prescribing this kind of customer service? The kind that works to determine whether I am headed to a doctor appointment or to work or to a conference at my kids’ school or to find a new, less CIA-like drive-thru to frequent as opposed to the kind that simply says, “hey, we really appreciate your business, please come again.” That’s all you gotta do with me, I’ll come back, I will. Yoo-hoo, managers everywhere, please stop convincing yourselves and your deputized staff that it endears me to you and your products when you smile sweetly and then try to force me to tell you my planned whereabouts for the rest of the day.
I sweat it when one of my kids displays for the literal one-millionth time their unwillingness to buy in to the passé concept of the garbage can. I won’t mention which kid here by name or gender, because I’m not into publicly shaming my kids. But only because I’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work with them so it’s a time waster for me. I’m not the kind of mom that sees the trash in the window sills and stuffed behind the couch, in the plant pots and on the bookshelves, on the counters and in drawers, in corners and on the FLOOR RIGHT BESIDE THE GARBAGE CAN and thinks; “wow, how cool! This kid is so easy-going, not at all an uptight neat-freak like me.” I’m not thinking; “would you look at that! This kid is not confined by the type of narrow-minded, in-the-box thinking that compels the putting of their garbage in an actual can for garbage even though there is one conveniently located in nearly every room in the house for said purpose.” I am not encouraged that this kid has a unique new vision that there is another way and I’m not proud of that kid for eschewing the norm and courageously executing that vision. That’s not me.
No, these and a gazillion other little things bother me and probably always will. Because I notice these little things with laser-like, pinpoint precision. And sometimes, if I’m distracted, the little things make me notice them by getting all up in my face. They fly right up my nose and get stuck in my lip gloss. And all this can happen because I’m not in a crisis. When I’m not dealing with something big, no sifting occurs. These little things are not churned to small bits and made to fall away. Instead they buzz around like annoying gnats, just begging to be swatted away.
And that’s how I’ve learned to manage the little things in life better, the ones that threaten to bring me down, like bullshit neck acne. By frantically swatting at them when I become aware of their presence, albeit with futile effort because this never works. They just come back. But eventually, while sweating from the swatting, I also come to the realization that, “hey! by golly, I am not crying right now. I am not curled up in the fetal position and unable to move or eat or make a decision. I am no longer neglecting everything else in my life because I’ve been sucker punched and can’t catch my breath. I’m up, I’m moving forward. Just army crawling actually but that still counts. I’m engaging with the world again and so I’m able to begin to notice everything I don’t appreciate about the world again. And this is a good thing. It is.”
Because when I start to sweat the little things, it’s how I know the big things aren’t big anymore. And that I did it, I made it through! It’s how I recognize I’m stronger now. Especially in the places I was broken. Stronger sometimes because of that big thing, not in spite of it. Coming full circle like this is how I can accurately gauge the little things as little again, and then summon a vague “oh, I’m not sure” to the employee at the drive-thru window instead of wanting to snark off a “nun-ya,” as in nun-ya-business, when they ask me where I’m headed next. Because I will never feel like giving myself up like that. Just part of my utterly imperfect charm I guess. But it’s also because I’ve realized I don’t always know where I’m headed in life until I get there. Lots of twists and turns there are, with unexpected detours too.
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Featured image: tigglrep, Untitled, flickr.com, (CC BY 2.0)
Middle image: Sheila Sund, “A Single Flower,” https://flic.kr/p/C8pzGi (CC BY 2.0)