So a while ago I had a talk with my sister who related a conversation she’d had with a co-worker. She was asking him if he could take care of something and prefaced the conversation with something we all probably have said at one time or another: “I know you have a lot on your plate”. And his response was “Barbara, we all have a plate”.
And those words really struck a chord in me because I have to believe that’s really true. We all have things we deal with every day on our plate, both great and small, challenging or mildly annoying, time-consuming or a blip on our radar. We all juggle a multitude of things that need handling or navigating or sometimes ignoring just to get through each day. A sick family member, a child who is struggling, an overdue bill, the stresses of our job. A fractured friendship, the person who looks past you as if you aren’t there. The passive-aggressive dialogue that someone pretends is a normal conversation, the I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong mentality that passes as civil discourse these days.
These things all pile up on our plate and some of us are better at not being overwhelmed by them than others. If you’re like me, you probably look at some people whose lives from your vantage point look pretty stress-free compared to yours. Plenty of people probably view your life and think you’ve got it pretty good. And compared to much of the world, we all should be doing much less complaining and much more giving thanks for our blessings.
I’ve got a plate with some things I wish I could get rid of. But every time I start to feel sorry for myself and ask the universe “why me?”, I think of all the people I know and the stories I’ve heard and the courage I’ve seen displayed and know that these people too have a plate that they’re dealing with, one with far more on it than mine could ever hold.
The woman we met on a vacation last summer, sitting on the curb outside a movie theater with her service dog, struggling to get herself inside to watch a movie. Her dog was an emotional support dog and she needed him to get through each day, to be able to get out there and function in a world not always welcoming of someone overwhelmed by life. (And into the movie she eventually got, sitting in the row behind us with her service dog in the seat next to her, him appearing to enjoy the movie as much as she did).
The son of my friend and classmate, Patrice, who was hit by a speeding and uninsured driver and ended up in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, his life changed forever because of the stupid and careless actions of someone he didn’t know. I don’t know this young man at all but in every picture I see of Kenny he is always happy and smiling and radiating joy and his mother tells me he is so appreciative of the life he still now has that you’d be a coldhearted fool not to be in awe of his strength and positive attitude.
The young man I know for whom life has never been easy. Abandoned by someone he loved and depended on, struggling with issues no one his age should have to, working hard and harder to achieve what he dreamed, accomplishing great things despite all he had been through and instead of being hardened to life becoming more empathetic and caring and sensitive to those around him.
A woman who has been betrayed by those she trusted to the point where she is reluctant to trust anyone again because she doesn’t think she can survive more betrayal, more lies, more self-criticism for making another bad choice, and who faces anxiety-filled days where all she longs for is the sleep that will stop her from thinking, bookended by nights where the sleep she craves eludes her.
The friends who have faced down cancer and beaten it only to come out the other side stronger and more focused. And the high school classmate and her family who – having lost a daughter to a terrible disease – now make it their mission to honor their brave daughter every year by holding a huge fundraiser to support the organization created to eradicate this awful disease.
We all fail and we all fall. We look outward at others when we should be looking inward at ourselves. We judge others’ circumstances and compare them to our own which is an exercise in futility. Sometimes our circumstances look better than others; more often than not we may envy the life we think others lead without knowing truly what is on their plate. We monitor and measure our accomplishments against those of others as if life was a contest and coming in second place was not an option. We think our troubles are more important, more burdensome, more overwhelming than someone else’s. And maybe they are and maybe they’re not. But the next time you think you’ve got too much on your plate, remember that we’ve all got a plate. All we can do is manage our own. And try to help someone else with theirs.