Just Begin

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My mother used to complain that I always wanted to fix things, situations, people. I suppose that I became a teacher because I have a personality that pushes me to repair hearts and minds. Most teachers are sensitive, compassionate souls who want to make the world a kinder gentler place. While this is not true of every educator, it is also a fact that many other people in our world also have what I call nurturing tendencies. When we see suffering, we want to somehow eliminate it. 

Most of the time the difficulties we encounter are spread out over time. Only once in a great while do we feel as though we are being bombarded by misery. I suppose that the present moment is one of those times. It seems as though good news is difficult to find under the constant threat of illness, death, natural disasters, wars, violence, crimes, injustice. It feels quite overwhelming just to read the headlines, and when we realize how divided we are in how to solve the world’s problems it becomes even more frustrating. It feels as though we first have to wade through lies, propaganda, and ugliness before we can even begin to help those whose very existences are reeling in disarray. 

I know that many of us have been feeling as though the world around us is in free fall, and our usual instincts to take charge are mired in confusion. No situation is as clear cut as solving a mathematical problem. There seem to be no totally right or wrong answers, or at least it is difficult to tell which is which. All of this leaves us with a feeling of being overwhelmed. 

I keep harking back to a time when a hurricane left our backyard looking as though a bomb had gone off. Our trees had been battered by the wind so badly that it was difficult to even walk through the jungle of huge limbs lying on the ground. The task of clearing and cleaning the area felt formidable until a wise person suggested that instead of making the entire project a goal, we should set forth to remove one tree limb at a time. I did not realize the wisdom and importance of that advice until I finally forced myself to begin. I ignored the enormity of the task at hand and simply chose one limb on which to work. I sawed it into manageable pieces and tied them together with twine. Then I moved my handiwork to the front curb for the garbage workers to carry away. I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment even though the damage had been so bad that nobody would have noticed that any work had been done at all.

I repeated this process over and over and over again for days and then weeks until one day only a single limb remained. I was amazed at how easy the task had actually been by breaking my labor down into manageable chunks. I realized that life often demands that we take just one step at a time until we ultimately achieve a goal. Sometimes I forget how powerful this process is, especially when it feels as though life is dumping all of its woes on us at once. 

Of late I hear about so many kind hearted people who feel overwhelmed by the sheer number and intensity of the problems that we face in the world. They want to do something to help to end the spread of Covid-19. They long to make a difference in the quest to heal our planet from the ravages of climate change. They grieve for the Afghan people and want to ensure that they will not become victims of barbaric vengeance. They see the suffering in Haiti and wonder how they might help in a meaningful way. They want to stamp out the ignorance, injustice and hate that they see sprouting everywhere, taking advantage of innocent people. It’s so much, too much, just like that huge pile of destroyed trees in my backyard. The tasks at hand feel impossibly daunting. 

I read an article yesterday from a woman who had a suggestion much like the one that I received years ago. She suggested that each person find the one thing that feels the most important to them, and then set small doable goals. Imagine the power of that process if each and every person were to do that starting today. All of that energy would surely begin to solve problems right and left. 

Instead of feeling angry, or stressed or hopeless we have to just begin somehow. Much like a friend whose son was murdered, we have to take tiny steps each day until one day the boulder that seemed to be blocking us from achieving a purpose has been lifted by all of the tiny pebbles that we balanced it with over time. 

This idea is not unique to me. I have heard such things before when things were difficult, and I have had success in following such wisdom.  How do you round up a herd of cats? The answer is by catching each cat one at a time. We may not be able to spoon out all of the water in the ocean alone, but we can accomplish more than we think if we just stay positive and greet each day with determination to spread the goodness in our hearts. Ignore the hateful chatter. Follow your heart, do small act regularly, and one day this too will have passed.

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