I Need a "Handle With Care" Sign
Because we just can't know what is going on in someone's life
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
I sat on the top stair of our house and sobbed in the empty hallway.
That morning I had spent most of a church service stubbornly wiping away tears that refused to stop falling. Before church, I had completed a morning social media tour with post after post of friends announcing their middle schooler’s confirmation and congratulating them on their affirmation of faith. My daughter was supposed to be one of them. My daughter was supposed to have spent the last year learning and studying and growing with her best friends under the guidance of a pastor who she had spent several years getting to know and a spiritual leader who I trusted with my daughter’s walk with God.
Instead, we were 1000 miles away, still feeling the limbo of unplanned changes that keep us second-guessing.
And what caused the dam to burst?
Just 30 minutes before, when we arrived at the football fields for our son’s flag football game, he panicked and announced that he didn’t have his mouthguard. I immediately turned around and headed home and after looking at my mess of a house and a frantic search through that mess, I learned on a quick phone call to my husband that a mouthguard had been found and everything was ok and I could just come back.
I. fell. apart.
I am a fragile human being caring for fragile human beings just trying to glue the broken pieces back together.
In some places, the superglue is holding, thanks to the love and support of friends and family. In other places, the pieces are still being held together with clear scotch tape, the cracks showing through and the adhesive barely holding on.
And I know I’m not alone.
Six years of political turmoil and two years of living through a global pandemic that brought countries and communities to their knees have left a lot of us feeling depleted. Far too many of us are holding onto far too much: too much grief, too much hurt, too much fear, too much loneliness.
There are days that I wish I could walk around with a “Handle With Care” sign. There are days that I wish I could attach a similar sign to my children, to warn people that I need them to know that my kids are more fragile than they might appear. And yet, in an individualistic culture that still elevates personal strength over healthy interdependence, asking for such a sign feels like I’m asking too much.
To “handle with care” does not mean coddling or focusing on the bright side. Instead, it means acknowledging a person's struggle and refusing to intentionally add on to that struggle. It’s recognizing that someone’s reaction to your comment or question might not be because of the question but because of everything that lies under the surface of that question. It’s admitting that you may have unintentionally hurt someone with your words and actions and asking for forgiveness and attempting to heal the relationship.
It’s operating under the philosophy of “do no harm” because that may be the best way you can show love to your neighbor.
I can't even begin to count the number of times in the last two years I've swallowed a “**** you” in response to another person's less-than-care-driven comments or flippant response to my concerns or expressed struggles. Because when someone is hurting, they don't need half-hearted platitudes; they need someone to listen without judgment. And yeah, sometimes they also need someone to sit with them and agree, “that's bull****,” even if they don't fully agree.
Because sometimes it won't go away. Sometimes the outcome can't be changed. Sometimes it can't be fixed.
We need people who will be honest with us. And yes, I suck at this. I'm a fixer. I'm a peacemaker. I don't want to rock the boat.
I spent years walking on eggshells, trying to avoid politically motivated landmines. I kept my mouth shut when my heart was telling me to speak up. I sometimes compromised my values under the mistaken belief that it was for some kind of greater good. I did all of this only to have it all eventually blow up in my face.
I am tired.
I’m tired of holding it all together to make others feel better. I’m tired of acting like I can keep handling even the little disruptions that get tossed my way because my ability to deal depends on a given moment on a given day. I’m tired of my perfectionist nature being at war with my desire to be a peacemaker because all I really want is justice.
So people are just going to have to deal with the fact that I am a little fragile right now. I’m seeking bubble-wrapped situations because right now I just don’t know how to safely exist in a world that seems intent on caring for self instead of others.
And in the meantime, I’ll keep praying for healing and peace and something better around the corner, because that is all I really have the strength to do.
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