June 25, 2020

It’s the little things, stupid

I’m just going to go ahead and say it. If 2020 were a thing, it would be an enormous, steaming pile of horse poop. It seems like every time we turn around, there is one more shitty thing to deal with. It’s like the universe woke up on January 1st and said, “how can we challenge humanity to the point of breaking this year?” After some brainstorming, the universe commenced with Operation Horse Poop.

And I have to say, the universe is doing a pretty damn good job. Just when we get lulled into a false sense of normalcy, when we succumb to this new way of life, BAM! Something else gets thrown at us and we’re jerked out of our cozy comfort zone. Right back to the fear, helplessness, sadness and anger.

I found out recently that our dog has a brain tumor. It sucks to write that down and put it out there. Because my favorite way of dealing with trauma is denial. Just take all of those feels and emotions and bottle them up, push them way, way back and go for a run or bake some bread. Deal with it later. It works pretty well for me… until it doesn’t.

When you get bad news, like your best friend only has days to weeks to live, you go through some pretty rough shit. You start thinking about all of the things you’ll no longer be able to do with them. How your house will never feel the same again. How your bed will be too big because you’re not struggling for space and fighting for blankets. You wonder what the hell you’ll do with all of this empty space and time. This routine you’ve grown used to over the years is suddenly null and void. You feel like you’re drowning.

But you keep going, because the other option is to let go. And that’s really not an option. So you wake up in the morning and thank the horse poop universe for one more day. You realize that every minute counts. Every moment is treated like the last one. You manage to find extreme joy in these points in time because it’s here that you discover the Little Things.

The Little Things. They’re so easy to miss when you’re a zombie from sadness, loathing or fear. But if you’re able to shake yourself out of the funk, these are the things that make all of the difference.

I’ve been volunteering in our local forest preserves for years. We work to help restore native plants and habitat in areas that are overgrown with invasive species and are damaged from constant human interference. It’s here that I’ve learned about all of the incredible and unbelievable things that nature does. One of those things is the Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar. As a very young caterpillar, they disguise themselves from predators by looking like bird poop! In their larvae state, they have brightly colored horn-like organs that when threatened, extrude from their heads and emit a chemical repellent. In all of my years of volunteering, I’ve always heard about these caterpillars, alway seen photos, always listened to stories, but have never had the joy of seeing one in real life.

While I’m struggling with grief and denial, I’ve found that being outdoors helps me cope. I am fortunate enough to have a little patch of dirt in my backyard where I’ve planted flowers and vegetables for the summer. I dig in, get my hands dirty and lose myself while weeding or watering. Today while surveying my herb garden, low and behold, what do I find? Not one, not two, but FIFTEEN Black Swallowtail Caterpillars on my dill plant. Now most people would be horrified and angry that this BUG is eating their herbs. But it’s the Little Things, stupid. Sure – I can’t eat my dill now. But this is something bigger. This is life succeeding. Even in the most dire of circumstances. Even when a pandemic is raging around us. Even when we’re killing one another because of the color of our skin. Even when my dog is dying. Life succeeds.

And it will continue to do so as long as we let it. So though it may be painful, and it may take all of the remaining strength and courage in your bones, look for the Little Things. Take joy and find solace in them. Because in this year of eternal horse poop, they’re our best chance at survival.