“Where would I find enough leather
To cover the entire surface of the earth?
But with leather soles beneath my feet,
It’s as if the whole world has been covered.”
I went through the following inquiry in my twenties at a particularly low point:
Maybe you think you want the whole world to change. For who? You? Those you see as victims? Some things could be better, absolutely. Hasn’t that always been the case? And how will you know when things are perfect or enough? Are you willing to put your life on hold until the world catches up with your vision of perfection? How about someone else's life? A bit risky, no?
I realized that tragedy and extreme suffering will always be a part of life. This was a very sad realization but also a necessary one.
I confronted the necessity to take my life and well-being into my own hands. I also had to acknowledge my zone of influence, which was and is quite small. I had to learn to take comfort that the good I do in my life and the lives around me will ripple out through time and space in ways I can’t understand. So will the bad, but that is for another time.
Sometimes we might think there is a way to “Nerf” the world. That is to say, cover the entire world in softness so that everything and everyone feels good, safe, and easy. Folks have come into my office sort of demanding or begging that life stop being so hard on them. This magical thinking usually stems from prolonged desperation and overwhelm and an externally skewed locus of control.
It’s common for mental health professionals to want easier circumstances for their clients too. It can be so hard to watch so many people go through unimaginable pain. We just want to rescue people from unjust circumstances so badly because we care so much about helping have good lives. It can feel intolerable to watch the good life be unattainable for some.
The following is an allegory for why we and those we care for must struggle sometimes. I want to add a caveat that, while it is true that struggle is good for us, we must still work to advocate for marginalized people and eliminate as much unnecessary struggle as possible. Life is hard enough. We do not need racism and other prejudice in addition.
The Monk and The Moth
Once upon a time in a serene monastery nestled amidst lush mountains, there lived a wise and compassionate monk. The monk was known for his deep understanding of the interconnectedness of life and his ability to find beauty and lessons in every aspect of nature.
One day, as the monk strolled through the monastery gardens, he came across a delicate moth struggling to emerge from its cocoon. The creature seemed trapped, its wings tangled in the fibers that once provided protection. Moved by compassion, the monk decided to help the struggling moth.
With great care, he took a small pair of scissors and delicately cut away the cocoon, allowing the moth to emerge freely. As the moth unfolded its wings, the monk marveled at its beauty. However, to his surprise, the moth fluttered weakly and then fell to the ground, unable to fly.
The monk watched in sorrow as the moth struggled in vain. It soon became clear that the premature intervention had left the moth's wings and body underdeveloped and full of fluid. The struggle to break free from the cocoon was essential for the moth's wings to gain strength and for the excess fluid to be squeezed from the moth’s body.
Reflecting on the unintended consequence of his compassionate act, the monk realized that the struggle was a vital part of the moth's transformation. In trying to alleviate its immediate challenge, he had unintentionally hindered the natural process necessary for the moth's survival.
As the moth's life flickered away, the monk bowed his head in remorse, understanding the profound lesson the universe had imparted through this delicate creature. He realized that sometimes, the hardships and struggles we face are intrinsic to our growth, resilience, and the development of our inner strength.
The story of the monk and the moth served as a poignant reminder within the monastery. The monk, despite his deep wisdom, acknowledged that the intricate dance of life often requires a delicate balance between compassion and allowing the natural course of events to unfold.
We have to struggle and people we care about have to struggle. Often, it is more loving and helpful to tolerate and encourage the struggle instead of trying to alleviate it. Being willing to accept and find the lessons in the struggle fosters resilience over time, covering our feet in leather in a world that will never be totally soft.