all of the selves we Have ever been
Ever have one of those days?
You wake up and you’re already tired?
And then a stink bug lands on your face,
and you slap yourself in the eye as you leap out of bed, tearing a toenail in half from sudden hard contact with the bed frame. You go for a morning jog and your bra strap breaks. One of the girls gets loose and you take a left uppercut to the chin with every stride. Instead of the runner’s high that typically fuels your day you find yourself miserable, praying to make it home before there’s a full knock out.
Starving, you pour your cereal only to find that there is but a teaspoonful of milk left in the carton, and you rue the day you became the Restocker-in-Chief. Disgusted, you skip breakfast even though your stomach grumbles that you are making a big mistake.
Everything about this new day screams: Retreat! And yet you soldier on.
You step into the shower where the full-on hot is barely warm. You get yourself and the children out the door. Everyone has their bags, their folders, their lunches, and their signed permissions slips. Your note says: Get milk.
You endure the traffic and the road construction while fretting over that darn tire pressure light glaring at you. The first to arrive at work, you switch on the lights and make the coffee. You turn on the computer and are faced with a technical difficulty. The bot chat proves worthless. You get to a customer service rep who you know is reading from a script. Before you are completely hypnotized by the repetition, you try to come up with your own solution to the problem, something that won’t involve job loss or prison time.
The day wears on. You stay on the job, and the work gets done. You provide for your family, and you help a few strangers along the way. There will be no extra credit for all of the terrible things that you thought about but did not do. You did not leave your litter on the running path. You did not explode in a fit of road rage at your fellow rush hour travelers. You did not ridicule the customer service representative. You did not quit.
In life, it is the small things that break us, and we never know what sorrows or fears are in the bags of our fellow travelers, the things that leave them too short on strength to take on all of the small stuff. We underestimate and undervalue the everyday bravery it takes to endure so many small things.
Now some may say that is too negative. They may see the empty milk carton as half full, and perhaps it is they who left it on the shelf, but it is the person who is sure that the carton is empty and who stops at the store to replace it that is both a realist and an optimist. There will be milk tomorrow.
With advancing age, I have come to realize how much everyday bravery it has taken to get me to where I am today. Now, when I see people receiving awards, I think about their talent for sure. Maybe it is beautiful writing that results in a Pulitzer Prize. And then I think of the editor who perfected every sentence despite the whining of her stable of writers, and the lowly intern who read the first draft from a mile deep pile of submissions and recognized that he had found something special, or the secretary who answered a hundred calls from impatient submitters, or that maintenance man who came to work in a snowstorm and turned on the lights, or the typesetter who chose the font and made the book real. In the background of all of their lives, there were sick children, aging parents, past-due bills, major disappointments, a myriad of small obstacles. And no awards.
Self-help gurus advised us long ago not to sweat the small stuff. Easy for them to say. I am pretty sure that the world keeps turning and the winners keep winning because of the farsighted courage of all the quiet and sweaty people who faced down the small stuff.