I had that dream again! The one where you’re being arrested or deported or evacuated, and you’re forced to pack up everything for yourself and a bunch of other people to survive, and you only have a few minutes to do it, and you only have a tiny little suitcase, and you have no way of knowing what you’ll actually need, and you know you’re making horrible choices, but you just don’t have the time to do it right. Do you have this dream? I don’t have it routinely like I used to, but it still comes around every once in a while.
But something new happened in my dream last night. Right in the middle of the anguished panic of stuffing a mishmash of precious and useless belongings into a too-small suitcase, I was thinking frantically, “Stamps? Should I bring stamps? We may need them!” And then I thought, “Maybe someone else will bring stamps.”
And that was it. I still had to do my best, and the rest of the dream was very unpleasant, but at least it occurred to me that not everything was riding on my efforts alone. My therapist will be glad to hear this. He’s only reminded me about eleven times that this is so. Maybe you need to hear it, too.
It’s not always true. Sometimes it’s really the case that, if you don’t do the thing, then the thing won’t get done, and maybe it’s a very important thing that absolutely must get done. Sometimes life is just like this, and it stinks, but there’s nothing that can be done about it; or sometimes, life is like this because other people are terrible, and they’re letting all the burden fall on you because they know they can get away with it. Good old you, always doing thing.
But sometimes, someone else really will pack stamps. Or maybe you can get stamps when you get there; or maybe you won’t really need stamps after all. Or maybe you will, and someone else can arrange for it to happen. I’m trying to get in the habit of asking myself, especially when I’m feeling overburdened and rushed and pushed into things unwillingly: Who is putting this burden on me? Who is pushing me? What will happen if I step away and let the burden fall?
It’s almost shocking to see just how often someone else is perfectly capable of doing the thing that I thought I alone could do. Or sometimes someone else is already quietly doing it, and I didn’t even notice, because I was so self-importantly accomplishing things. Or sometimes no one else will do the thing if I don’t, but it doesn’t really matter as much as I thought it did. My busyness is very often not as important as I think it is. Sometimes, I’m chagrined to realize, the main purpose of my busyness is not to accomplish things at all, but to make sure people know I’m important. Ick.
So, there’s a secondary revelation here, not as icky, but harder to internalize: I am important, but not because of all the things I can accomplish. I’m important when I’m in the background, and when I’m resting. Check it out: I’m even important when I screw up and pack the wrong thing and everybody suffers because of the dreadful lack of packed stamps. My actions and choices are meaningful, but they are not a test of my inherent worth.
That’s it. That’s the dream. I needed to hear this. Maybe you did, too!