The Unicorn of Replenishment [is not real]
This post was inspired (in part) by my just-younger sister’s
post, “Unsought Advice.” Silver Star is working her fingers to the bone,
leaving me wishing I were closer in space to help share some of her load with her.
A couple of months ago, someone I hold dear sobbed about extremely distressing life circumstances she’s having a hell of a time escaping. As she sobbed, she told me people around her counsel her to “just be more positive” as if positivity is not a tool but itself the cure to all ailments.
I spent twenty or thirty minutes telling her where I thought those people could shove it and, in order of importance, why.
I was actually pretty eloquent then, but it was eloquence born of impassioned advocacy.
Tonight, I just want to briefly reflect on how positivity alone doesn’t cure anxiety, poverty, PTSD, or a million other ailments that took days, months, or years doing unspeakable damage to their targets before someone suggested they “just try positivity.”
Let’s imagine one woman’s exhaustion level as liquid in a mug. For each missed day of pay, subtly veiled workplace threat received, or snub from her distant spouse, the tiredness level in her mug rises a little.
In the best of circumstances, life throws her not only losses but healing resources. These suck the tiredness from her mug: a friend who consistently sits with her while she sobs, and who also helps her step toward something better, a manager who understands kids get sick, a partner who reliably steps in and says, “Here, let me get some of that.”
Many people are fortunate to spend their time walking around with cups of tiredness closer to empty than they may consciously realize. They have solid support systems, relatively stable finances, and plenty of replenishing resources to help suck dry the puddles of tired that accumulate in their mugs.
Others have some resources, but they’re fewer and more sporadic. For every little bit of exhausting circumstance such a person faces–unplanned illness, a best friend who moved across the country and can no longer be a pillar, reduced hours and thus reduced pay, her child’s day care closing–her mug of tiredness inches closer to the top.
If she’s lucky, she’s somehow able to find enough positive resources to keep her tiredness from spilling over. If she’s not lucky, exhausting circumstance flies at her faster and faster while positive ones are intermittent or unpredictable. Her mug of exhaustion spills over.
When her mug spills over, the errant hostile word that once might have just been a little tiring is suddenly a reminder that life is an exhausting well of insurmountable hardship. Each bounced check and the resulting cascade of penalty fees shouts, “You are failing! You are failing in every way possible!” Every “I never!” or “What kind of mother are you?!” from a passing stranger or acquaintance is a quarter-cup addition to a mug that no longer feels like it’ll ever be manageable again.
When someone says, “Just try positivity!” there’s a pretty good chance she’s speaking with a mug of bone-tired not only dry but squeaky clean. She can’t imagine–or can’t remember–what it was like to live praying she could just keep going long enough to finally get survival in check, the better to maybe someday get back to the business of actually living.
In writing blogs and writing forums, writers advise each other to show, not tell. In real life, rather than punching positivity promotion in the throat, I’d like to gently offer the same counsel.
Saying the words “be positive!” alone is like telling a grieving person “at least your loved one [is at peace/is in heaven/died surrounded by love]!” No matter how well intentioned, these words add grief upon grief, signaling to the griever that she has not only lost someone much beloved … but also friends who once spoke deep and true, who now speak only in cliches.
Demonstrating the light of love, on the other hand, is to living positivity what showing is to writing: it is the exemplifying, not the mere saying. It is the shining brightly, not the description of what shining looks like to someone who can no longer quite imagine the light. It is the offering to absorb some of the exhaustion, instead of telling someone she should work harder to find the Unicorn of Replenishing in the twenty seconds she has to herself before falling into fitful sleep after each day’s grind.
So how does a person show-not-tell in the pages of life outside the bounds of any book or blog? To start:
Don’t say there are bricks at a shop across town. Drive there with your friend, and help her lay a new foundation!
Don’t gesture vaguely at a ladder and walk away. Stand at its base and help keep it steady for her!
Don’t say the word “love.” Show love!
It’s in the showing,
not the speaking,
by the possibility
of “tired” that ends
that is more