Big Picture, Small Picture

I’m struggling with perspective. You know those pictures people make, like of the United States, or the face of the nurse that has gone viral, but it’s made up of hundreds of individual photos of people? The big picture is part of a lot of small pictures. I’ve always thought I was a big picture person. When my kids fight with each other, or Other Half is freaking out about something, sometimes I ask, “Is this going to matter in ten years?” Usually the answer is no, and the point is made— let the little things go. Other days I’m not so good at that. 

Mary Ann and I were watching the preview of “Always and Forever, Lara Jean” on Netflix and she says to me, “I don’t care what kind of drama they stir up in the previews. We all know they’ll end up together in the end.” That’s a big picture kind of thinking. I like to believe that everything in life is going to work out and be tied up neatly with a bow, and some days I’m able to. But some days I’m just really not. 

When I’ve worried about things in the past, my mom would give me a hug and say, “Well, you’re wasting worry. It’ll either all work out. Or it won’t. That’s the only two options.” She meant it to be funny, but it was so honest to how I felt. That’s the kind of day today has been. 

Over the past year or two, I’ve told myself over and over, “It’s going to be fine. You’ll heal from all this.” First as we lost a Pappy and then a Papaw and then an Uncle and then a Mamaw. And then a Mom. As the kids gave up their school routine and traded it in for Zoom meetings. As Other Half went from working full time to being with the kids so they would be safe. And through all of this there have been big picture days where I understood this was just a tough year, and things would get better— that my family would heal and we would come back stronger than ever. Days that I believe my dad will get better and life will feel like an extravagant new beginning rather than one long goodbye. 

And there have been small picture days where I lived moment to moment, convinced that things would never get better and my heart would be broken forever and that I would be broken forever there was nothing I could do but accept the fact that sometimes bad things happen and we have to suck it up and move on. 

Over the weekend I was having a string of big picture days. Today I’m having a small picture day. I hate it and it makes me feel emotional and weak and like not enough, but it also builds things into me that can’t come any other way. Things like an appreciation for true friendship, or how it feels to see the kids getting along for five minutes even if it’s only to watch TV. Or a realization of priorities and how good it feels to get them back in order. Or how sometimes the best medicine is watching Gilmore Girls re-runs so you can pretend you’re 16 again and have no responsibilities. 

The big picture is that things have a way of working themselves out, and learning to have faith in that is the whole point of everything. The small picture is that today is not the day that happens. Both pictures are part of my story. Both have value. The things that seem like they might consume me now are really just the small picture, but they are the things in front of me, the things that I need to address today so that I can have a better tomorrow. One thing I’ve learned as an avid emotional runner is that avoiding the small picture doesn’t get you through your grief any faster. Big picture living without appreciating the nuance of ordinary days is a life only half-lived. We have to embrace it all— the terror and the pain and the sorrow and the joy and the anger and the uncertainty. The days that feel like a dream come true, and the days that feel like you have a gaping hole in your chest that you are almost certain you will fall into, never to be seen whole again. 

But here’s the thing—the days when your thoughts are racing and you feel hopeless and lost and alone are small picture days, but your big picture days will be infinitely more satisfying if you take the time to let the small picture days build into you the things you never wanted to learn. Things like resilience and loyalty, hope and contentment. Today is a small picture day, and I’m going to soak it up and wring out every drop from it that I can, because I’m tired of hiding and I’m tired of pretending and I know the only way to get to the big picture is to cobble together a bunch of these small picture days. 

Mary Ann told me tonight that sometimes we have to view pain as a companion, maybe not a friend but more like an organ that has a function to serve to keep us whole. The fact that my kid has suffered— that’s the small picture. The wisdom she surprises me with on a daily basis? Big picture. I might not like how we’re getting where we’re going, but I am loving the glimmers of hope I see along the way. 

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