“Don’t sweat the small stuff!” I’ve said it a hundred times to people around me. The layaway payment is a few days late? “Don’t sweat it!” The shipping address for that order doesn’t match the Post Office database? “Don’t sweat it!” The young man on the other side of the counter doesn’t have quite enough cash to pay for his purchase? “Don’t sweat it!” Again and again, I encourage folks to let it go and not worry. There are more important things in the world to think about. Frequently, the folks with whom I am dealing are reluctant to let it go, uncertain about allowing a stranger to foot the bill and suspicious that there will eventually be a price to be paid, somehow.
One of my favorite writers is Robert Fulghum. I find that theologically, I am as far from him as anyone I read, but this man does understand life. How else do you explain the title, “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten”? So when I read this quote a few years ago, it stuck in my head and made me think. “Life is lumpy.” Well, yeah. But what does that mean? I get that it’s not all smooth sailing, that there are ups and downs in life, but what does he mean, “lumpy”? Thankfully, he finishes the thought…“A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” I wish I’d said that! Admit it! You’d think I was a brilliant philosopher if I had, wouldn’t you? But, I didn’t. That doesn’t make it any less to the point.
Why is it that we agonize over such minutiae as a misspelled word in the church bulletin, but turn our eyes away from the homeless person standing in the foyer as we leave the church? Why do we become incensed about an overcooked steak and castigate our waitress mercilessly, never caring that she is worn out with concern for a wayward child who is in trouble with drugs? It’s not always others that we aim our venom at, either. Many of us internalize our anger and distress, blaming ourselves for sloppiness, for tardiness, for forgetfulness. Before we know it, our worry and apprehension has gotten the better of us and all of life looks dark, with no hope of ever getting better. Day by day, we tie ourselves up into knots over unimportant details, which have no lasting value of any kind.
Mr. Fulghum recommends perspective to bring focus. Sometimes, lifting our eyes from our immediate problem to view the big picture will bring clarity. Sometimes, we just need a friend to give us a kick in the pants. But always, we need to make the important issues important, and the minor issues minor. Otherwise our mindset, our moods, our outlook on life will be skewed and we ourselves are the losers.
Today, it rained. A lot. I have a couple of black dogs that live in my backyard. They have a shed to which they may retreat in inclement weather. They’re not intelligent beings. As they wandered out in the pouring rain, I fretted and got myself into a dark mood worrying about them. I also knew, in a tiny spot in the back of my mind, that a friend of mine was going through some tests in the hospital to determine the cause of a heart arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. I wasn’t in a black mood about him, just about the dogs out in the rain (of their own volition). Late this afternoon, an email came, reminding me that he will be having a procedure to make repairs to his heart tomorrow. The light flashed in my brain! Important things need to be made important. Minor things should stay in their place.
I have one more comparison, if you’ll allow it. I have complained repeatedly about needing a break from work. The load has been significant. I’m not as young as I once was. And, I find that I’m getting better at griping about it than most. As I talked with one of my regulars today about my perceived problem, I was in fine form, commenting about being trapped with no way of escape. I don’t care if it is job security, I’d like a little less, thank you! The customer finally shoehorned a few of his own words between those in my diatribe. I started listening and discovered that he had to quit his part-time job because of the pain it brought on from a very real injury. Now, a couple of years later, he is fighting to keep a pension which barely allows him a subsistence. If he goes back to work, he not only risks injury again, but he will lose the pension altogether. He is not sure he is even going to be allowed to keep the pittance he draws every month as it is. Again, the moment of clarity comes. Again, I am chagrined.
Life is indeed, lumpy. I have my share of lumps to deal with. Some of them have been significant; some have not. I am continuing to learn that inconvenience is not the same as emergency; that nuisance is not the same as tragedy. Now, if I can just keep my eyes open and focused. Sometimes, like the reminder on the rear view mirror of the car which reads, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”, the things I can see with my eyes are neither exactly as big, nor as small as they may seem to be. Perspective needs to be kept at all times. The class is still in session. I’ve failed a few of the preliminary tests. I’m hoping that I’ll do better on the latter ones.
I’ll leave you with one more piece of wisdom from Mr. Fulghum’s book that I mentioned earlier: “…remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”
I’m keeping my eyes open. You?
“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.”
(Matthew 23:24 NIV)
“Clarity affords focus.”
(Thomas J Leonard~American life-coach and teacher~1955-2003)