I recently heard a friend of mine talking about a time in his life when he felt like domino after domino was falling. One event seemed to set off a chain reaction that caused life as he knew it to crumble. When he mentioned this, I thought of the fact that one domino can knock down a progressively larger domino, one that’s about one and half times its size. A Google search of “domino effect exponential growth” brings up articles like this one talking about the fact that the Empire State Building could be brought down by merely twenty-nine dominoes, each a little larger than the one before it. That’s incredible. One small domino, something that can rest in the palm of my hand, could kick off a series of events that topple a skyscraper. This caused me to think differently about the domino effect. What if, when things seem to be crashing around me, I could view it as a path being cleared? What if, instead of a sense of panic or dread, I could feel excited about the obstacles that are being moved out of my way? In many cases, we’ll never know what mountains have been moved for us because, by the time we get there, the rubble has been cleared. But what if we take comfort in the fact that, when the dominoes start to fall, they’re just preparing to clear away something that otherwise would never budge?
When you make something or someone else responsible for your happiness and sense of well being, you set yourself up for constant disappointment.
It’s a struggle to find a balance between the internal voices that want to push me to work harder and the ones that are telling me to relax and take care of myself. I often think of days when I was a kid and didn’t feel well. Of course, my inclination was to want to stay home from school. Sometimes, my mom immediately agreed. Other times, she’d tell me to try taking a shower first. Essentially, just start with step one and take it moment by moment. If, after the shower, I felt like I could make it to the next step, I would. Mom always reminded me that, if at any point, it seemed like it was too much, I could stop. I wasn’t committed to anything other than trying. Of course there were days that I ended up in the nurse’s office, waiting for her to pick me up. More often, though, by taking it moment by moment, I’d end up having gotten through the day at school, feeling better along the way. I’d find myself thinking, ‘I’ve made it this far. I can do a little more.’
I’m still finding ways to apply this in my life. Just start. Take it step by step, trusting that I can stop if it feels like it’s too much. In most cases, though, I end up thinking that I can do a little more, then a little more. And before I know it, I’ve accomplished something that previously felt impossible.
We weren’t meant to live like this. We were created to live in a community, not to isolate ourselves in our individual homes and keep everything for ourselves. Why does everyone on the street need a leaf blower? If my neighbor has one, do I really need one? I’m happy to lend him my lawnmower or ladder, whatever he may need. Can we just share what we have? We teach our kids to do exactly that. We tell them to be kind, to be friendly, not to keep everything for themselves. Meanwhile, we seem to be living our lives contrary to that. So as our kids get older, they get a different message, one that tells them that the goal is to accumulate as much as possible. And hang onto it.
Recently, Harbour was playing a game on my phone where a human figure is standing in front of a wall. The wall has a cutout, and the player has to change their shape in order to fit through it and get to the other side. Once on the other side, there’s another cutout with a completely different outline. So it’s a constant battle of changing your shape – bending, contorting, ducking, jumping, in order to fit. But it’s never over. You just keep having to be different than you were. It’s a constant cycle of hurry-up-and-change or you get slammed by a wall. It’s exhausting.
This is what it’s like when we choose to be anything other than our authentic selves. If we’re anything other than that, we exhaust ourselves trying to be what other people want us to be. We can’t keep up. We bend to get through, thinking that we can relax now, only to find that the expectations have changed and we need to be different. At some point, this becomes unsustainable. We can’t carry on, so we get slammed by the wall.
How different could the first years with Harbour have been if I had believed that I was worthy of something good? Or if I had been willing to risk gut wrenching pain in the future in order to enjoy the beauty of the present? I’ve grieved for countless moments that have been lost. I’ve beat myself up about it – for not seeing what was right in front of me, for being so afraid of losing him that I kept my heart at a distance. Every time I look at his baby pictures, I remind myself that, at the time, I thought he was so big and was already sad for what I had missed, what I felt I had lost. Looking back now, all I see is a snuggly, squishy little baby. There’s been a shift in perspective. One of the most important shifts is that I’ve decided to do my best to just be here with him now. I love Harbour more and more every minute. If ever I start to lose myself in the fact that he’s getting older, I now know that, eventually, I’ll look back on this very day and think that he was so young.