“I can feel you with me in the darkness
Reaching out a hand to pull me through
Sadness used to think that it owned me
Now sadness has to share me with you.”
–Matt Nathanson, Sadness
I’ve been holding onto a piece of paper for several weeks—a poem of sorts that I started in August when I was feeling sad and unsettled.
For several days, all I had was one line. It wasn’t even a complete sentence—but for some reason, those five words were enough.
When the world feels awful
I carried those five words around in my tiny notebook that goes everywhere I go.
One day, I accidentally discovered a small action that made the world feel less awful. I added it to my five words.
The next day, there were two actions. I added them.
It wasn’t long before I had something that looked like a partial poem. It read:
When the world feels awful, walk across the street.
Check on somebody you haven’t seen in a while.
Discover a new song.
Pick out the funniest greeting card, and mail it to the first person who comes to mind.
When the world feels awful, wear your comfiest pants.
Go get ice cream with someone who is crazy about ice cream.
Say your hopes and prayers out loud.
Use a leaf to gently pick up a caterpillar on the sidewalk; place him out of harm’s way.
When world feels awful, invite sad feelings for some chai tea.
Return an abandoned shopping cart to its home.
Remember the name of your first best friend; find a photo of you together.
Be surprised by the bravery of your young self.
When the world feels awful, collect quotes that feel like anchors to a shaky soul.
Nuzzle your face into a furry four-legged companion.
Go to the bookstore with no agenda;
Peer around the corner as your growing child sits on the floor reading; feel peace.
Unlike these tangible acts that were all completed over a few weeks’ time, the poem was only partially complete. Curiously, this partial poem was enough.
For several days, I’d read my incomplete poem scrawled inside my tiny notebook and I’d wonder—how will the poem evolve and expand today? That speculation created delightful possibility—and that, in itself, made the world feel less awful.
When the poem had twenty lines, I considered sharing it with others, but my inner recovering perfectionist insisted it needed an ending.
I would be patient, I decided.
Last week, the ending came from an unexpected source. It was contained in an extraordinary story from a blog reader of mine. Her story is too good to paraphrase. It is necessary to read it word for word. She has graciously given me permission to share:
While I was shopping with my almost 9-year-old child for a pair of black pants, panic set in—for her and for me. You see, this child has only worn leggings for the last five years. But the chorus teacher said, “no leggings,” for their chorus uniform. I did a little research beforehand and found that Gap had a pair of “skinny pointe pants”that looked like they may work for my girl. I knew I had to let her try them on, so we made our way to Gap and found the pants. She immediately said she wanted the smaller size, but I knew it was too small. When she tried them on, her eyes lit up as she said, “Oh, I like how these feel on my legs! ”But when she tried to fasten the button, it was too small. (Panic) The next size up would fit her perfectly, but to her, they would feel like they were swimming around her legs. (Panic) She was visibly upset, and I was getting frustrated. I thought about saying, “You’ve got to get over this. You can’t keep wearing leggings for the rest of your life. If you want to be in chorus, you have to wear these pants.” As if reading my mind, she said, “I’ll just drop out of chorus.” (Pause. Breathe, Mama. Remember: “Only Love Today.”) I looked my daughter in the eyes and said, “I believe we will find the right pants. ”I could see the relief in her eyes and the smile returned to her face as she hurriedly took off the “too big” pants. Had I gone with my first response, she would have burst into tears and felt ashamed about her aversion to pants. I am grateful for my response because it wasn’t always this way. It is not always this way even now, but in this moment, I chose the response that was needed.
I believe we will find the right pants.
I don’t know what it was about those eight words, but they made me weep with hope and laugh with joy.
I could actually see that precious mama and her precious girl in the Gap dressing room—the way the pants hung loosely in one area and squeezed tightly the other. I’d been that little girl. How many times did I say, “but it doesn’t FEEL right,” to my exasperated mother? The number is in the hundreds. The unsettledness of clothing not “feeling right” was something my young heart knew well. But my grown heart knows that feeling well too—that ill-fitting, too itchy, too tight, something-is-just-not-right sensation that makes you want to retreat or give up all together.
Kind-of like when the world feels awful.
“Did you find the right pants?” I typed back to my reader with eager anticipation.
And just when I didn’t think I could love that mama even more, she replied, “No, but we will keep searching!”
And all at once, I had the ending to my poem, that is (thankfully) not an ending at all – it’s a beginning.
When world feels awful, believe it is not.
Search for proof of its goodness,
Even if you have to create that proof yourself.
THIS. This is the process that had pulled me from my despair—
belief that we are not stuck in a hopeless state
belief that WE can make the world more hopeful, one small act at a time.
Dear ones, when the world feels awful, we must not stop believing, searching, and remembering what is good.
Let us not forget
a compassionate response can instantly ease pain.
Let us not forget
a welcoming smile can be someone’s lifeline.
Let us not forget
one tiny step forward can close a distance that seems unsurmountable.
When the world feels awful,
Let us not forget we can turn the tide with
A hand in the dark
A heartfelt apology
An unrushed moment
An I-BELIEVE-WE-WILL-FIND-THE-RIGHT-PANTS declaration in the cramped quarters of a stuffy dressing room.
And out we will go, on our search for Goodness in a vibrant shade of red in what seems like row after row of Absurdity and Tragedy in grayish hues.
May we find that Goodness is not such a rare find,
That it’s closer to home than suspected,
And the fit is pretty much close to being perfect.
Then we’ll wear it like it’s our uniform—because love is our job.
And we have much work to do… when the world feels awful.
My friends, the world felt anything but awful this past weekend at the GIRLS ON THE RUN Fundraising event in Scottsdale, Arizona. Thank you for letting me be funny, emotional, serious, and real. I cannot remember ever feeling quite so at ease during a talk. I will not forget the hopeful faces of the girls in the program, the women who orchestrated the unforgettable event, and those in attendance. What an honor to be part of such a momentous day and a world-changing organization. What an honor to meet so many of you. (A few photos below)
Please continue registering for my upcoming speaking events in Ohio (Mercy Health Women’s Day) and Massachusetts (SPARK Kindness Resilient Parent Series)! It brings me such joy to meet you!
If you are in need of “quotes as anchors for your shaky soul” – I recommend these prints from the HFM Shop: FACING FEAR manifesto, the GET OFF THE SCALE manifesto, the PRESENCE PLEDGE or the watercolor set of 4 soul-building quotes. My third book, ONLY LOVE TODAY, is packed full of encouraging daily declarations. Thank you for supporting my work. I am truly grateful.
If you are reading this post through my newsletter and would like to share the post with someone or on social media, you may do so from my blog. A huge thanks for sharing the hope!