In the checkout line at the grocery store a woman was speaking loudly into her cell phone. "Wish me luck," she bellowed, "Lord knows I need it. I'm broke. And I don't mean financially. I mean emotionally, spiritually broken!"
Instantly, my mind traveled to the slips of paper in the front pocket of my purse.
Earlier this year, I attended a party, the purpose of which was to manufacture and spread positivity into world. Each guest was asked to craft personalized poems, memes, and messages of hope, kindness, and encouragement. Our missives were to be distributed throughout the community at random. Unexpected pockets of pleasantry for those who could use it. Upon hearing the shopper's plight, I planned to stealthily slip one of the handmade notes into her grocery bag.
Ah...the best laid plans.
Either I moved too slowly or she moved too quickly because, when I looked up from the check stand, the stranger was headed for the cart corral. I followed her and tried to put the note in her bag before she could see me. But she busted me--red-handed! Tongue-tied and sweaty-palmed I extended the note in her direction. "Here...I've got something for you."
I was shocked by what happened next.
The woman who, just moments earlier declared her brokenness to the world (okay, not the world, but at least a dozen other shoppers in the checkout line) recoiled in disgust. It was as if I was handing her a soiled diaper. Or an envelope filled with anthrax. Clearly, the stranger wanted nothing to do the note or its messenger.
"Nope. No. NO!" she shouted, with a sweeping motion of her hands, shooing me away like flies off potato salad. "What IS THIS?!" she demanded to know, eyes suspiciously fixed on the anthrax diaper.
I told the woman the envelope contained words of encouragement that were written with just this kind of occasion in mind. "Well I don't need it," she protested, "my life is just FINE!" With that, she placed the note on the window ledge of the cart corral and gingerly backed away, lest it spontaneously combust into a toxic cloud of bio-hazardous dust.
She must have had a an instant change of heart because she pivoted back and asked, with a heavy dose of side-eye, "Is this some kind of religious thing? Because I am NOT interested in THAT!"
"No," I replied, "it's just a little poem I wrote. I thought it might brighten your day. But there is no obligation to accept it."
With an air of annoyance, she snatched the note off the sill and escorted her groceries to the car. I"m quite certain the unopened envelope immediately took up residence next to the empty latte cups and wadded grocery lists in the parking lot rubbish bin.
I walked away flummoxed.
Despite numerous attempts to forget about the incident, I kept ruminating about it. Despite its spectacular awkwardness, the exchange felt oddly meaningful. Perhaps there was something to learn here.
After giving it some thought, I realized what I heard in that woman's voice was desperation.
Desperation is fear that joins forces with hopelessness, self-doubt, and loneliness. It is an occasional part of any well-lived life.
Most of us long to be noticed. To be loved. To be accepted. These longings are most pronounced when we are desperate, yet we are often so ashamed of our vulnerability, we come undone when it is acknowledged by another. We push love away, either by gripping it too tightly (lest it disappear) or by lashing out to throw others off its scent.
We cannot be any kinder to anyone than we are to ourselves when we are desperate.
The stranger in the grocery store likely responded to me the same way she responds to herself when she is vulnerable--the same way any one of us under the same circumstances might have responded.
Desperation can make a powerful argument for urgency: we must make that phone call, take that drink, offer ourselves to that unworthy recipient, or tell that strange lady in the grocery store to bugger off now! Alas, when we are desperate, the best option is to stay put, do nothing, breathe, and let the feeling run its course. Like all moments, desperate moments are designed to pass. It's just hard to remember this when desperate fear wants to take the wheel.
When desperation arrives on the scene, shame soon follows. The voice of shame tries to convince us we are weak, pathetic, or unlovable. Shame tells lies; don't believe them.
Desperation is not pathetic. It is the cosmic backhoe that exposes us to the rawest, most honest parts of ourselves. There is beauty in this honesty.
Even though we may believe we are undeserving of love when we are desperate, this is the time we most need it. Sometimes the love we crave can come from someone else. More often, however, we must reach inward to find it.
Your house is one with many rooms. Even when it is barricaded by desperation, the room of self-love still exists somewhere deep inside of you. Trust that it is there. Take a blind leap of faith that you will find. You will!
Eager to get out of desperation and back to self-love? Email me for a free consultation to see if psychotherapy is right for you!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer whose therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of Seattle, Washington. She has been providing counseling and dating consultation services since 2000.