Thursday, July 17, 2014

Every Inch is a Mile to Someone

It feels like a month has passed since Monday.

Month and a half, tops.

Lately I've been wearing an extra hat (or five) at work, and I think it's catching up with me. At least, it is catching up with my back, and where my back goes, unfortunately the rest of me must follow. It has gotten to the point that the last two days my dinner has consisted of Doritos and ibuprofen--and I didn't even mind.

My to-do list is piling up like a sky-high stack of dishes in a restaurant sink. Every one I wash is quickly replaced by another, even grosser dish.

Yesterday, I found myself between "dishes" and I decided to finish up a simple, piddling task I had been putting off. All I had to do was thread a label into the plastic spine of a binder. Easy, no?


If I had to guess, I would say this binder was forged by the fires of Mt. Doom and protected by an unbreakable curse that could have netted the world an extra Harry Potter book. The first label I printed only made it about an inch into the plastic before it tore. I printed another one and tried as hard as I could to cram it in there until it was all mangled up like a used tissue. I tried folding it to make it stronger, but then it was too thick. Unfolded, it stood no chance.

What should have taken seconds was racking up minutes, and I didn't have any minutes to give to such a small thing. There were too many big things looming over me, waggling their fingers and taking swats at my tender conscience.

Since every other attempt at force hadn't worked, I did the only thing left: I slowed down. I thought small. I moved it in such tiny increments I could barely make out my own progress until I saw that the crumples and tears from my previous attempts were sliding slowly under the plastic. "This is ridiculous," I said to myself and chewed on my molars. It was working, but not nearly fast enough to suit me. The progress was just too small for the time I had allotted for the task. "This wouldn't be fast enough to suit an ant," I grumbled.

But it would have been. The more I thought about it, I realized I was looking at things all wrong. I was looming over the project like a time-crunched grizzly bear, when I should have been looking up at it like a persistent ant. If I was as small as an ant and I saw the progress I was making, suddenly it wouldn't seem like such a tiny amount. I would look at the ground I had gained in those too-fast seconds, and I would be proud. I would see those inches, and they would become miles.

After that crossed my mind, I realized how silly I was being, getting frustrated over a task I hadn't even dignified as a legitimate undertaking. I had wasted more energy being frustrated than I had time in slowing down.

This should not have been any new epiphany to me. I have been working for years with a population of people whose small victories I celebrate as often as I can. I never waste an opportunity to tell a person when I see good in them, or when I am proud for them, and that includes when one particular client remembers to use a napkin to clean a spill, or when someone says "no" when every fiber of his being tells him to say "yes," and he hands me the $20 bill to keep safe for him because he can't trust himself to stay clean with money in his pocket. Those might be inches to some people, but I see it through their eyes--they have traveled miles.

Sometimes I forget. I get busy, tired, frustrated, and worn down to my achy bones, and I forget that an ant can carry more weight in proportion to its body than any grizzly bear can. Small success, slow victory--they aren't second class. Any success--whether it be conquering The One Binder or recovering from an addiction--deserves to be seen for the milestone it is. 

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