Heavy

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So many things have been weighing heavily on my heart lately.

I see the face of the man holding up a tattered cardboard sign on the street corner, beside the freeway onramp, the man whose eyes I dodge weekly, behind my sunglasses, before pushing through the intersection instead of rifling through the handbag beside me to find a dollar bill.

I wonder where he sleeps at night and whether the absence of my dollar in his hand will make his life that much more difficult for him. And then I feel ashamed, driving in my clean car, hands resting comfortably on the steering wheel. His face will stay with me the entire day, if not longer, until it blurs into the face of the next man on a different street corner, the next woman holding a sign and clutching her life’s belongings in a single bag.

They are a sea of anonymous souls, yet they’re familiar. They seep into my subconscious — my conscience — and stay there, as daily reminders of the fragility of life, of life’s misfortune and unrelenting pain.

Since I was a child, I’ve been afflicted with an unnerving sense of worry and on darker days, a nagging sense of outright dread, which I’ve dragged around with me like a clunky, over-packed suitcase. It’s ridiculously odd, I know, yet I somehow always felt I was in control of bad things or good things happening in life, simply through my own actions, which I balanced steadily as if on a delicate tightrope made of a strip of threadbare fabric.

I foolishly thought that if I followed my own imagined “rules,” and maintained an overall sense of duty and benevolence, mostly “good” things would surround me. Or the opposite would result with my bad behavior. I suppose I believed in Karma. As if by stepping the wrong way on a proverbial crack in the pavement, with the wrong foot at the wrong time, the ground beneath me might give out and crumble into dust, or some kind of doom might strike either myself, loved ones close by or complete strangers far away.

“Step on a crack, break your mama’s back.”

I used to believe such silly childhood idioms. I suppose I’m slightly superstitious and I thought my actions were connected to everything in this world, that consequences hinged upon my behavior or my attempts at being kind to others and trying not to break any rules. That one false move, a single misstep on my part, could throw everything off –kilter in the universe (or what makes up a child’s very small universe), a footstep on a crack might render everything doomed — or worse — might do some kind of irreversible damage to someone, somewhere, family, friend or stranger.

I made every attempt to follow the rules as a child and probably into adulthood, to be a good girl, because at the time, I believed good things happened to good people. Good always prevails over evil, right? That if I didn’t step on those real or imagined “cracks,” in the pavement, if I played by the rules and was “good,” nothing would be rendered broken around me. Nothing bad would happen to others or me.

I blame such simplistic thinking on the childhood naiveté of a nervous, tightly wound and somewhat idealistic girl. I obviously know now that I’m not in control of much at all, that I’m certainly not in control of another’s fate, let alone my own. Yet still, I worry. I worry about complete strangers I’ve never met in other countries and best friends in the next town over. I worry about suffering, illness and loss, about sadness, loneliness and hopelessness.

I fret about children I’ve never met and my own children, about scenarios that haven’t yet played out for them and might never play out. Yet still I lie awake at night, worrying, chewing my fingernails down to the quick, running down a mental list of all the possibilities and feeling a sense of overwhelming helplessness. Helplessness about all of the sadness and tragedy in the world that I can’t do anything about, that I can do some miniscule, seemingly insignificant things about in the big picture, but even that makes me feel unbearably small.

I know now that bad things happen to good people and that good things happen to bad people and that an unfair and inexplicable cruelty exists in this world, that there are evil people living amongst us who make it their mission to inflict pain on others. That misery and plight is as inevitable as tomorrow’s sunrise. And still, I wish it wasn’t so. I wish in some way I could prevent it all.

I see the face of the mother in the Target parking lot with her two young children from a few weeks ago, pleading in capital letters scrawled in black ink for help. And again I divert my eyes. And again, I feel ashamed. I’ll think about her worried, near-hopeless face that night as I lie in bed, and I’ll feel helpless and tiny and insignificant all over again. It’s her I worry about and everyone else.

I worry about them all. And each of them feels like a thousand pounds weighing on my heart.

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