If you can't take in anymore, there's a reason
an essay on circuit breakers, empty buckets, and the shame-show of social media
It’s all too much
I used to live in a very old apartment building with super sketchy electrical wiring. Were I to audaciously assume my hair drier could run while my stereo was on, I would once again find myself opening the grey metal fuse box next to the refrigerator and flipping the breaker. My apartment had been built at a time when there were no electric hair driers, and the system shut down when modernity asked too much of it.
I think of that fuse box often these days, because friends, I just do not think our psyches were developed to hold, feel and respond to everything coming at them right now; every tragedy, injustice, sorrow and natural disaster happening to every human across the entire planet, in real time every minute of every day. The human heart and spirit were developed to be able to hold, feel and respond to any tragedy, injustice, sorrow or natural disaster that was happening IN OUR VILLAGE.
So my emotional circuit breaker keeps overloading because the hardware was built for an older time.
And yet, when I check social media it feels like there are voices saying “if you aren’t talking about, doing something about, performatively posting about ___(fill in the blank)___then you are an irredeemably callous, priviledged, bigot who IS PART OF THE PROBLEM” and when I am someone who does actually care about human suffering and injustice (someone who feels every picture I see, and story I read) it leaves me feeling like absolute shit. I am left with wondering: am I doing enough, sacrificing enough, giving enough, saying enough about all the horrible things right now to think of myself as a good person and subsequently silence the accusing voice in my head?No. The answer is always no. No I am not. Nor could I. Because no matter what I do the goal of “enough” is just as far as when I started.
And yet doing nothing is hardly the answer.
So I wanted to share something with you. Every day of my life I ask myself three discernment questions I learned from one of my teachers, Suzanne Stabile:
What’s MINE to do, and what’s NOT mine to do?
What’s MINE to say and what’s NOT mine to say?
And the third one is harder:
What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT mine to care about?
To be clear – that is not to say that it is not worthy to be cared about by SOMEONE, only that my effectiveness in the world cannot extend to every worthy to be cared about event and situation. It’s not an issue of values, it’s an issue of MATH.*
So I try and remember, 1. We are still living through a global pandemic and that means the baseline of anxiety and grief is higher than ever and shared by everyone. 2. The world is on fire literally and metaphorically. But 3. I only have so much water in my bucket to help with the fires. The more exposure I have to the fires I have NO WATER to fight, the more likely I am to get so burned, and inhale so much smoke that I cannot help anymore with the fires close enough to fight once my bucket is full again.
So I try and tell myself that It’s ok to focus on one fire.
It’s ok to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about.
If immigration reform is yours to do, if it is the fire you have water to throw on, (thank you! and…) that is enough. There will be voices saying “but what about climate change? You don’t care that the planet is dying??”. Tune that shit out. I mean, you could turn around and ask the environmentalist next door why they heartlessly don’t care about immigrants, but there is no percentage in that. Instead, we could be so grateful for the people who are called to work on and respond to worthy issues that are not fires we ourselves are equipped to put out.
I’m not saying we should put our heads in the sand, I’m saying that if your circuits are overwhelmed there’s a reason and the reason isn’t because you are heartless, it’s because there is not a human heart on this planet that can bear all of what is happening right now. So thank you for being a person who cares about and responds to animals, or the environment, or immigration, or domestic violence or any of the other worthy-to-be-cared-about shit-shows we are in the midst of right now. Just, thank you.
A prayer for today, Tuesday August 17th, in the Year of Our Lord 2021.
I am sad to inform you that the planet is on fire and there’s a global pandemic that goes on and on and takes more and more from us. Haiti has been decimated once again and Afghanistan is looking doomed and last week some scientists said some pretty depressing stuff about our planet.
It’s all a bit much right now.
I don't want to feel numb but sometimes I do.
Except for when I’m having random level 9 responses to a level 2 situations. I mean, it’s humbling to admit that yesterday I shouted “FOR FUCK SAKE” at the guy with the painfully and unnecessarily loud muscle car in front of my apartment. Bless that guy, Lord.
Please just show me what is mine to do because otherwise I will feel horrible not doing everything or callus for just doing nothing. So, give me grace for myself and others.
Also, everyone is understaffed right now so grant me patience with every clerk and delivery driver and customer service rep.
And when all I can do is stop during the day and place my hand on my heart and hold all these heavy realities up to you, may it count as prayer.
Help me to know when there is water in my bucket and which fire to throw it on, but also to know when to wait because I am on empty. Help me to trust that you will give me what I am to give away and to not feel like I must carry water for everyone else.
I guess what I am saying Lord, is: please show us some mercy, and help us to show this same mercy to ourselves and others.
*I know this is a complicated thing, because there are injustices that have only been addressed because for the first time they have become widely known through social media. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like the wiring in our brains and psyches and hearts and spirits wasn’t meant to take in all the information we consume each day.
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I’ve been feeling this so much. I had to log off of everything and unfollow everyone for a few days just to catch my breath; the shame spiral was suffocating me. I’m realizing now that so much of this is embedded in my ego, a way of perceiving myself as a savior, as someone big enough to fix all of these things, as someone who ignores the small thing I’m actually called to because I think of myself as someone who can tackle something much bigger. It’s a great paradox, that we can heal the world by doing something that seems small and insignificant, and yet it seems to be the only way forward. Thank you for this, and for this reminder that we were never made to carry and hold every single thing, and that faithfulness can mean just carrying the thing that’s ours.
Totally agree- this is a great view. And sometimes all I have the bandwidth for, water in my bucket for, are the people closest to me, to give them a fire break from the storms in my own head.