My sweet friend asks, “How are you?” The question prompts me to look around for my bag of stock responses. Should I say, “moving forward” or “getting by”? A favorite is “trying to make progress.” As with many life circumstances, however, those four words don’t begin to tell the whole story.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote “[h]uman progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.” Although I know Dr. King’s statement was intended to address humanity in the aggregate, I think its sentiment is equally applicable to individual humans. At the very least, I can definitively confirm that it is applicable to one human, this human. “Rolling” in no way describes my human progress. Clunking is more apt. In fact, I imagine the wheels on my human progress trolley as square. Or, if they are a round, each wheel is eager to travel in its own direction, like the rogue shopping cart that I always seem to choose when I’m in a hurry: I think I need Doritos, but it is headed for the peanut butter.
Most of you are probably familiar with the herculean effort it takes to direct this shopping cart’s errant wheels. It’s similar with human progress.
It isn’t hard to come up with the to-do list for making progress. Let go of past hurts. Be wholehearted. Don’t rely on another person for your joy. And you tell two friends, and they tell two friends, et cetera, ad nauseam. And we all live happily ever after in a Hallmark after school special. But, perhaps obviously, while making the list may not be hard, checking items off IS hard. The devil does always seem to reside in the details.
Checking items off the list requires certain tools. Just last night I heard a statement about the necessity of the right tools that resonates with wisdom: you can’t kill a seven-foot rattlesnake with a five-foot hoe. Truth. Like killing a rattlesnake, human progress also requires tools. I’ve learned that compassion for self is a critical tool; it’s like the duct tape or WD-40 of human progress. And, don’t even try to move on to compassion for others before you have mastered compassion for self. If you can’t use duct tape correctly, you are going to make a mess with pliers.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of adding a new choice to my bag of stock responses. How am I? I am here.
I am here. I am breathing. I am not simply an amalgamation of my life events, good or bad. And, I am much more than the best or worst things I’ve ever done. Yesterday I was brave, today I was brave and tomorrow I will endeavor to be brave again. And, when I get tired, I will ask for help. Because I need help – just as much as I need to give help. I am a tiny piece of humanity connected to all that is human and nonhuman through an intricate web of interrelatedness.
Don’t be fooled. It isn’t easy to be here; it requires awareness and concentration. These days, I practice being here with the deer that visit the quince tree outside my kitchen window. If I stand quietly by the window, sometimes a deer will make eye contact with me. As I look into its soft, kind eyes, I silently repeat I am here.