This evening was a bit interesting. I wanted to enjoy every last minute with the kids so I had asked everyone to be downstairs. My daughter was sitting in the grey chair by the TV, but was lost in her phone, not participating in what was going on. I asked her to put it down and was met with more emotion than I was expecting. She was clearly mad and told me that, “clearly I don’t understand”. I asked her to help me understand, but she continued to get upset.
I asked her to come with me for a drive so we could talk. At first she protested, but then acquiesced and came out to the garage to go with me. We hadn’t gone very far before her emotions were overflowing and she was practically crying. I told her that if she was upset with me, it was OK. I assured her that her feelings were important and that I wasn’t trying to minimize them. I was expecting her to unload on me about either the divorce or my remarriage, but that isn’t what happened. First she said that I didn’t understand, that she was suffering from situational depression and that everything was overwhelming. I told her to help me understand; that she didn’t need to label her feelings, but to just say whatever she was thinking. It was a jumble coming out, but she said that she felt like the world was on her shoulders, that her generation was expected to solve the world’s problems. Then she went to something more personal and said that she had been taken away from all of her friends and family; that she hadn’t even been able to say goodbye to her friends. And now she was stuck in a house because of COVID and unable to make new friends. I have no doubt but this isolation has had a tremendous impact on her feelings like life isn’t within her control.
I told her I understood how that must make her feel. That I had felt some of that same shock when she had suddenly been gone and I hadn’t gotten to talk with her. I asked her why she felt like she had to solve the world’s problems and while she didn’t elaborate, she said she just did. We were sitting parked next to an empty field near my house. It’s fairly littered with trash and she said she wished she could pick up the trash – and I had a thought. I said, “Why not? Let’s go back and get 2 trash bags and we’ll come back and pick up trash.” She asked me if I had gloves and I assured her that I did.
We drove the 500 feet back to the house and my daughter ran in to grab garbage bags while I found the automotive gloves from the garage. Then we returned and went to work.
We talked as we picked up trash and found things. We picked up trash, nails, a grill, a few shirts, rotten groceries, soda bottles and more. I picked up the one really dangerous thing we found – a meth pipe. We talked about how much better the field looked as we removed trash from it. We also talked about how we might be helping people that walked through the field, especially at night, to not be injured by glass or rusty nails. We threw the trash bags into a construction dumpster at an adjacent building and stood back to examine our efforts. It hadn’t taken more than 20 minutes, but the view was noticeably more pleasant. And that’s when I gave her the object lesson that had been forming in my mind.
“If I had come to you and told you that you were responsible for picking up all of the trash in our city, how would you feel? Is that realistic or even fair to lay that burden on you?” She agreed that it wasn’t and that it would feel overwhelming.
“Now look out over the field and look at what you have done, in this small part of our city that is near the house. You’ve taken the time to clean up what you can and it’s had an impact on not just how it looks, but how safe it is for others. How does that make you feel?” Her face beamed and she said it made her feel really good.
“Sometimes, you have to look at a big problem from a local perspective – the part of the world you live in. Do what you can, where you are, but don’t feel like the entire problem is yours to solve.” I hate to admit it, but I then talked some about the Michael Jackson song, “Man in the Mirror” – meaning you have to change what is in your ability to change:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
My daughter then made a connection from an earlier incident in the week where we turned around on main street to give $20 to a homeless woman that was pushing a cart with a mattress in it. She said that,
“Dad, it’s like that homeless woman we helped earlier. We couldn’t solve all of her problems, but we tried to do something to help.” I had to smile and agree. I asked her to remember how she felt then. I reiterated that we have to, “take pleasure in the small victories and acts of kindness we can do instead of letting what we can’t do rule us.”
I love my daughter.
Good way of tracing and learning! Empathy for others is always important!