I was driving through town the other day, had just picked up my preschooler and was running late to pick up my kindergartner, and I got stuck. The light turned yellow, and then red. As I was sitting, I watched the colors change, back to green and was waiting to begin motion again, when nothing happened. I looked ahead and I noticed a stream of cars in the intersection still moving as if their light was green. My first instinct was outrage at this disregard for the traffic rules. You can’t move on a red light! That is blatantly unfair, not to mention incredibly illegal! Then, my eyes shifted to the cars themselves and I noticed the little orange flags waving on each of the vehicles, granting permission for them to move freely through the red light.
It was a funeral procession.
For a split second, I was irritated and let out a sigh in frustration. Great. Now, I was going to be even later, missing my opportunity for a parking spot.
But then it hit me, as it usually does when a funeral procession passes before me. My heart sank in an empathetic dive towards sadness and compassion.
These people, in some way shape or form, have just experienced a loss. How can I even compare? The answer is I can’t. The insignificance of my tardiness was nothing in comparison to losing a life, no matter the relation. I felt embarrassed, despite the fact that I was alone (mostly) in the car, no one witness to my thoughts. My three-year old sitting in the back of the car singing to herself had no awareness to the situation, and yet I still felt icky.
Sometimes we are inconvenienced. Sometimes it isn’t even fair.
An elderly person, or a perfectly-abled young person, takes too long at the checkout. Someone pulls in the wrong way in the drop off lane at school. The mail deliverer brings the wrong mail to your house – for the third time. These things happen, and it seems we are getting more and more intolerant.
We are all humans and we seem to be segregating ourselves not just into different colors, religions, and genders, but also into varying degrees of importance and righteousness. And why? What gives any of us the right to declare our needs to be more important than those with whom we cross paths?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in self-care and recognizing our own needs and boundaries to keep ourselves healthy – in mind and body. Without taking care of ourselves, we are no good to anyone else. And yet, where do we draw the line? When our deferences are recognized and we are credited with kind-doing? Or is it when we finally feel we have enough time, money or patience to finally give it to others?
I ask these questions because so much more often than not, I see impatience, quick judgments, self-serving actions all around – even in myself. Horns are honking because someone is not moving fast enough. There are high levels of irritation that our agendas are being delayed or interrupted. Tunnel vision that someone’s actions are purposely looking to affect our own, without regard to any other possibility that actually doesn’t even relate to us. And there even exists harsh judgments of someone else’s actions or circumstances, often based on preconceived notions - this overwhelming increased intolerance and feeling wronged.
For myself, when I can take a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture, I realize how much I am seeing only one side of the situation. I realize how much that I can actually afford to give. And I’m not just talking about money. I mean the more intangible, yet often more important things in life; time, patience, kindness.
Do a little bit of good wherever you are, even if you are feeling you can’t afford it.
Sure, people do things that seem unfair all of the time. Hey, I might even be one of them, and don’t even realize it. So, when situations in which I feel slighted are presented to me, I realize I do have a choice. I can get angry and resentful that I am being taken advantage of and that someone else seemingly is getting the better end of the deal, or I can take it for what it’s worth. Can I afford to let this one go? Am I being violated in any way that jeopardizes my safety? Or can I be grateful that today, I have a little extra to give. I am not plagued with the tragedies that affect so many on a daily basis.
It is not worth it to trade my peace and give up space in my head to let the little things overcome my serenity. When I am able to see a red flag in my perspective - or in this case, an orange flag in the funeral procession, I am reminded of all that I do have. I am reminded that for today, I have those whom I love healthy and present in my life. So, I can give a little more. And if there comes a day when I experience a tragedy, a loss, a deficit in faith, I hope that those around me have a little extra to send my way when my reserve is empty.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” - Desmond Tutu