“I need to go to the doctor,” he said. We were heading home after a few hours at one of those indoor kid places filled with bounce houses, climbing structures, and dried turds at the bottom of a colorful ball pit.
I asked why, and wondered how quickly the germs he’d been playing with might have multiplied.
“Because,” he said, “My mouth is broken.”
I don’t remember the first time I felt broken, but a chunk of my heart cracked and fell off in the car that afternoon. Turned to dust near the brake pedal.
“What do you mean, Buddy?”
“Nobody understands me,” he said.
“I understand you,” I replied.
“You’re not everybody,” he said.
I told him that one day, sooner than he thinks, more people would understand him. I told him that we each have Big Hard Things.
Reminded him that Daddy is bad at driving. That I’m not good at geography and history.
Since then, he’s made huge strides in words and sounds but I still think about that day, and about each of the times I’ve felt broken.
In today’s world, and maybe, in any world (but way more in today’s, it seems), having part of our heart turn to dust near our feet seems to happen too often.
I should clarify – when writing about feeling broken, I don’t mean being actually broken. There are broken people among us but the thing about them is that they don’t feel broken. They feel entitled, justified, and like everybody else is to blame.
Brock Allen Turner, his father, and the judge that sent the message that being an athlete means you get away with being a criminal are broken.
The asshole who blew up himself and a bunch of kids at a concert this week. He’s broken, as are those who celebrate him.
I digress, but wanted to clarify that when I say “feeling broken,” I am not talking about sociopaths, or people who hate. (NOTE: I’m also not talking about depression or feeling suicidal – that’s the type of broken that Chris Cornell *RIP* and *SOB* felt. If you are feeling suicidal, PLEASE call this number NOW 1-800-273-8255)
Ok. Thanks for that.
Anyway, I think about that day in the car often. Wonder whether I said everything that my little boy needed to hear.
Wonder whether I’ve told myself everything I need to hear when I’ve lost a friend, a job, a dream.
When I’m lost and not even sure why.
Are there things we’re supposed to do when we feel broken?
Are there things we’re supposed to say when our child feels broken?
Yes, and yes.
Because everybody feels broken, some of the time.
Whether it’s our mouths or our hearts, we worry that something inside of us isn’t working the way it should be.
Here are 6 things I tell myself, my friends, and my son when feeling broken.
Disclaimer – I’m not a doctor or licensed in any way. I am, however, kind of an expert on being too hard on myself and feeling broken at times.
6 Ways to Feel Less Broken in a Broken World
- Allow yourself grief and outrage. Is any of what’s causing these feelings in your control? If not, write them on a piece of paper. Burn the paper if that helps.
Know that you cannot and will never control anybody else’s behavior or actions.
Think about what power you have to control your own behavior and actions.
- Think about your life at another age when you felt broken and that things may never improve. Note the things that did actually improve when you were paying the least attention to them.
Tell yourself that you have no idea what’s around the corner.
You will probably feel very differently in six months, a year, five years.
You’ll feel differently than you do tonight. I promise.
- Remember those who suffer. Syrian refugees with nowhere to go.
Your own city’s homeless population. If you’re able to, buy a toothbrush and some sunscreen and give it to somebody living on the streets. If you can’t afford to do that, talk to somebody on the streets. Realize that they have a story.
Homelessness could happen to just about anybody. Connect. This helps to get you out of your head.
- Go outside. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the night. Wonder where the drivers of the cars you hear are going or coming from. Picture their lives, and those affected by their actions.
This is one of my favorite things to do when I feel lost or alone. It reminds me that the world is so much bigger than the one I live inside my head.
The cars going by may be coming from a birth. A funeral. The best night of their lives. The worst one.
- Go outside (yes, again). Look at the clouds, the stars. Wonder about other planets and other solar systems and think about the woman in another timezone on the other side of the planet who is feeding her baby, or sipping a cup of coffee.
Maybe she just got good news. Maybe, she was just told she has weeks to live.
Feel connected. Feel her.
Feel your place, here.
- Play “Would you rather?” with a child. My son and I play “Would you rather,” and I’ve come to love this game above all others with him. The hilarity and insight I get from his answers always takes me out of myself, and him out of his.
Regarding number 6 – You play “Would you rather?” by asking whether the other person would rather x or y, and then ask “Why?” when they answer.
The other night, he asked whether I’d rather be a bald eagle or a fish. “Eagle,” I said. “Why?” he asked.
“Because I’d love to fly,” I said.
I asked him the same question. “Eagle,” he said.
“Why?” I asked. “Because bald eagles eat fish,” he said, and burst into giggles.
And just like that, I forgot I was feeling sad and broken in the first place. Life is good that way.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “I felt the most broken when…”
Feel free to talk about the moment you felt broken or modify the sentence to be “It broke me the day…”
As always, a loose interpretation is welcome. Talking about the time you broke you foot, or the neighborhood kid who didn’t ask you to sign her cast. Talk about your stupid refrigerator breaking and having to throw away a bunch of food. Talk about being broken.