Sunday, November 27, 2016

Container Check

Yesterday as I was wrapping up the remains of our Thanksgiving feast I was bemoaning the lack of leftovers containers in the mountain condo where we're staying.  We had to get creative with aluminum foil and forcing multiple side dishes to share occupancy in the few pans and containers we had brought with us. (Note to self: next time, bring Tupperware!)

But that got me thinking about an experience I had nearly 10 years ago when I was emotionally broken inside as a result of a betrayal and ultimate loss of a very close friend.  I remember talking to someone else about it, in-between sobs, bemoaning the fact that for the umpteenth time I had trusted her to be there for me and once again she let me fall onto the concrete, shattering my fragile heart and head that I was sure I had mended once and for all.  Here's what this person said back to me:

"Her container isn't big enough for you."

I had to let that one sink in for a while.  It completely made sense and it created such a perfect picture of the situation.  There I was, overflowing with all of my stuff - happy, sad, confused, contented, worried, stressed, joyful, etc. etc. - and I wanted to share all of that with her, but, the same as we found out with the extra gravy last night, her container simply wasn't big enough to hold all of what I was offering.

That got me thinking about my own container, and the containers of the people that I have in my life right now.  It also got me thinking about people's containers in general, and how they can shift in size and space depending on what's going on with themselves and their lives at any given time.  For example, I know someone who is usually thoughtful, kind, generous, and goes above and beyond to make sure that people are being taken care of. She's currently in the middle of a difficult health problem, and therefore isn't as attentive to others as possible. Her container is filled up with her own stuff, and she doesn't have any room for anyone else's stuff right now.  Which of course is completely understandable and necessary, and puts the responsibility of those of us who have room in our containers to try to add some joy and thoughtfulness and love into her container, so that she can draw on those when her own reserves run low.

Then there are people whose containers seem bottomless.  No matter how many times you go to them, their arms are always opened wide, they always have time to listen, and their generosity knows no bounds.  These containers also seem lidless - the good stuff just keeps getting generated and shared with no bottom or top to them at all.  These containers seem to be the most rare in the world.

Then there are the people whose containers are always full. Full of their accomplishments, their problems, their stresses, their unfulfilled dreams, their unbreakable opinions, their steadfast mindsets, their prejudices, their annoyances, their superior attitudes, and their staggering volume of low self-esteem and self-questionable self-worth. I know A LOT of people with these kinds of containers. So full there's no room for joy or acceptance or anyone else whose viewpoints don't match the ones in their container.  There's no mixing of leftovers in these people's Tupperwares - it's white meat turkey only in there - and don't let the dark meat even touch it.

(Yes, I'm aware that was quite an on-the-nose metaphor, but fears and tempers are still running high 16 days after the 2016 election.)

This also got me thinking, is the size of each of our containers genetically determined, like the color of our eyes? After giving it some thought, I'm going to answer that with a "no." I believe that our containers are determined by our experiences in our lives and that although each one of us is born with a container, it can stretch or shrink at any time based on a plethora of factors.

Question: If someone has a particularly small container, does that make them selfish? Answer: Depends on the situation.  10 years ago I would have said, "Yes! If someone's container isn't big enough for me, or other people, then they are selfish and should be condemned for it!" Now, I'm not so sure.  I know that my container's space priority, at this point in my life, is reserved for my husband and my children first.  If one of them is going through something that needs my time and attention, it takes up more room in my container, which leaves less room for other people at that time. It's not going to be that way forever, it's just while we're going through this container-space-occupying thing.  Does that make me selfish? I don't think so. But I wonder if people are considered selfish because they are not effectively communicating what their container is currently focused on/filled with?

(Let's face it though, there are people in the world who are just 100% selfish, whose containers are full of themselves and permanently closed to anyone else.  My advice? Stay away from these people, their containers are like the Tupperware that's permanently stained from the spaghetti sauce - throw it away and find another one.)

Here's another thought: if someone's container is filled with things like happiness, grace, generosity, and love, these are "light" things. They don't weigh down a container, and they are easily shared because of their buoyancy.  Picture a child blowing bubbles - little hands try to catch them as they fly past and there are always more shiny, transparent, rainbow-streaked orbs floating by.   It seems that the lighter someone's container is, the more room there is in it.  Makes sense from a physics standpoint, don't you think? Easier to carry around, easier to share from, and easier to fill when necessary.

Conversely, if a person's container is filled with things like worry, stress, darkness, depression, self-absorption, anger, self-doubt, and hatred, that makes for a very heavy container.  That kind is difficult to lug around, and there's certainly not much room in there for anyone else's stuff, even if the stuff that's trying to get in is happiness and love.  So often I think we try to lighten the load of these people's containers but there's not much we can do if they are filled to the brim and sealed shut.

So while I don't want to reduce the emotional capacity of any human being to a plastic, predetermined sized, "Why can't I ever find the lid to this one?" receptacle, I think it's a good metaphor when dealing with other people in our lives whom we may be depending on to be there for us, in good times and in bad.  We can ask ourselves, "Is their container big enough for me at the moment?" And then make healthy decisions based on what we feel is the answer to that question.

Even better, let's take a look at our own containers. Are they tiny, with no room for anything else? Closed up to receiving anything from anyone else? Filled with so much of our own stuff that we don't have room for anyone else's? Maybe it's good to do a "container check" once in a while on ourselves, to see what we have room for, and what might be holding something old and festering in the back of the fridge that needs to be tossed out once and for all.

Personally, I hope to keep my container filled up enough for myself, but with enough room for anyone else who might need the space.  I would encourage you to regularly check your own container: How big is it? Are you hoarding anything unnecessary in there? Is that taking up room that could be used more efficiently for someone else's stuff?

The container store boasts more than 10,000 items to help you organize and contain yourself.  But there's only one container you really need to worry about every day. Yours. I hope it's big enough for you and for whoever may need some space in it at any given time.  I also hope you'll take the lid off once in a while and share the goodness inside your container with others.  That's really what we're here for.

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