I’ve Been Thinking…When the World Feels Awful
“So there you have it: two things & I can’t bring them together & they are wrenching me apart. These two feelings, this knowledge of a world so awful, this sense of a life so extraordinary—how am I to resolve them?”
There is something to be said for living life with open shutter eyes, peering around wildly in a steady, honest gaze. For looking beasts in the face, calling them by name. For wising up to what is.
For closing those same eyes gently in prayer, in sacred chaos, in crumbling awareness of the perils that be.
It is easy for me to champion a life extraordinary. I am quick to see the good, to believe the idea that people are well-meaning and lovely and we’re all just over here on a spinning rock trying not to damage one another too terribly.
I have, in the past, thought this to be an exclusive ideal.
As in: the world cannot be awful, can it?
As in: aren’t we doing our best?
As in: wouldn’t it be despairing, joyless, pessimistic to call our very best awful?
But it is: our best is sometimes awful. The world is feeling terrible and tumultuous, and also extraordinary, and I cannot resolve the two.
Of all the skills parenting has bestowed me with – the opening of the olive jar with one hand, the successful finding of the missing shoe, the knowledge and recollection of each and every Moana lyric – it’s the vestige of nuance that I love most. The astonishment that our brains are complex enough to contain multiple emotions within a single experience.
The pain and fear and joy of childbirth.
(The pain and fear and joy of everything after.)
Early this week, Bee lost her turtle figurine in the front yard landscaping. She’d placed him in a low weed, then turned away for a minute or two and he’d camouflaged himself right into obscurity. Can you help me look? she asks.
I start to try, but I’m busy chasing Scout, keeping him from the garbage cans, the garage tools, the street. I can’t see it; I’m moving too fast.
So I pick up the baby and settle him onto my hip, and I scan and search from my own 5’5 height, but it doesn’t work. I can’t see it; I’m standing too tall.
The weeds are too much; the turtle too hidden. The problem too big; the solution too complex. Bee and I give up, vowing to work together during the baby’s nap once we’ve both got a free set of hands for digging deeper.
This is how the world feels to me now. Too much, too hidden. Our brains hard at work on problems too big; our hearts hard at work on solutions too complex. Few of us with a free set of hands for digging deeper.
Conversation fragments around dinner tables offer multiple theories: Is it less guns? More modesty? Less hashtags? Better healthcare? Less money? More clarity? Less Hollywood?
Which is it: less or more?
If it’s half empty, can we pour more?
If it’s half full, what does that mean for the parched?
Surprise, surprise, I have no answers.
But there are two more things.
Yesterday, the littles and I drove to an across-town neighborhood to drop off roasted chicken and kale to a new mother we ran into by happenstance, in Target of all places. I’d given up Target long ago, and we were there just long enough to pick up the changing table for a different new mother, a changing table that had been put on hold and lost in the back room causing a delay just long enough to run smack dab into the familiar eyes of a woman two weeks postpartum returning a onesie. Just long enough to strike up a conversation and all but force her to give us an address where we can please drop off dinner, Lansinoh, anything. She said yes, and we said yes, and people still want to help and people still want to be helped, and none of us are above either.
I don’t believe in just long enoughs.
I don’t believe in happenstance, in coincidence, in the idea that our world’s connections and energy and wavelengths have been so spliced that we’re no longer each others. I believe we were created from the same dust and rubble and clay, and I think that makes us all both awful and extraordinary, so terrible and lovely and beheld.
We’re back in the front landscaping now, and Scout has fallen asleep but the sun has grown colder and the afternoon more dim, and Bee and I return to our knees just long enough to dig and search through the mess of the weeds, and there – waiting, expecting – is her dear turtle hiding in absolute plain sight.
We just needed to get lower, is all, with wide eyes and a bit of dirt under our fingernails.
And that’s just the thick of it, right there. The knowledge of a world so awful – of a brush so dense – is precisely what begs us to dig in, to sully our knees, to peer harder at a life so extraordinary that sits right in front of us.
We’d have no reason to do it otherwise.
We don’t get one without the other.
There is a temptation to steer clear of the world’s awful. To walk away from the obscure brush toward the tidier, more obvious treasures – pink sunsets, crisp chardonnays, eucalyptus in a jar.
Who wants the toy turtle? What’s it even worth? Why work so hard for such little reward, for the disappointing hope of cracked plastic and cheapened paint?
Here’s why: because it matters. Because the fresh air and the cool sun and the dirt under your nails, after a while, start to feel good, start to feel right, start to become extraordinary. Because sometimes you find the turtle and sometimes you don’t. Because you search anyway, for just long enough and it ends up changing you.
Because Target checkouts can become sanctuaries, and so can low income schools and local libraries and your neighbor’s back patio.
Because you can only self care for so long before you care only for yourself.
(I can’t see it; I’m standing too tall.)
Because I am rubble and you are rubble and the things that are the most inconvenient, the hardest work, the dirtiest jobs, are part of our DNA, are the very dust we were born from and born for.
Because distractions aren’t really distractions.
(I can’t see it; I’m moving too fast.)
Because the world looks really awful from far away, just absolutely terrible, and when we get closer it gets just as messy, just as jumbled, but the turtle is still there, sitting right atop the extraordinary.
Because we are still here and we might as well do something about it.
Author of Chasing Slow and founder of Design for Mankind, Erin Loechner has been blogging and speaking for more than a decade. Her heartfelt writing and design work has been showcased in The New York Times, Lucky, Parenting, Dwell, Marie Claire, Elle Decor, Huffington Post, and a two-season HGTV.com web special, garnering over one million fans worldwide.
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