Once upon a time (because that's how all memorable stories must begin, you know), there was a man named Paolo (no particular reason other than the name just stuck in my head). Paolo wasn't particularly young, and he wasn't particularly old. He wasn't particularly handsome, and he wasn't ugly. He wasn't good at much, mostly mediocre... but he was good at serving hungry people.
Oh, boy - you should have seen him, down at the soup kitchen, fastest ladle in the west (west San Fernando Valley, that is). And he served with a smile. Everybody wanted to get his line, and he took pride in seeing that all of those hungry souls got fed. Day in and day out, this is what he did, with little to no thought of himself and his own needs. Unselfishly, he gave.
"Take a break and have a bowl of soup. You're looking kind of peaked." Said the kitchen super. Paolo just kept on ladling. "See that long line of hungry folks?" he asked, pointing to the line that snaked out the door and curved around the outside of the large brick building, "If I don't take care of them now, they might not all get to eat before we close up for the night. No, sir-ee-bob (because every good story has a "no, sir-ee-bob" in it), they are counting on me, and I can't let them down. Nobody is as fast as I am."
Day after day, year after year, this went on until one day, Paolo dropped dead. Just like that.
People were sad and all, some said pretty words, and the super hung his ladle on the wall, but a week later, someone else was hired to help at the kitchen, people kept being fed, and life went on for the living.
So many of us live like this. I truly believe that our gifts are given to us so that we may better serve others, but if we keep pouring out without filling our own ladles, we die, just like Paolo. Maybe not a physical death (though quite possibly), but a death of spirit, motivation, and inspiration.
It's noble to serve. And sometimes serving can be an exacting task that requires that you dig deep and give everything you have, hoping that it will be enough. It's not noble to wear yourself out if you don't have to. Actually that's pretty dumb.
I've learned that I do this as well, and though I have been making small steps to better serve myself so that I can give to others, I'm not great at it. So I get run down. Like "I just woke up, why am I already tired?" run down. Like "lie down for a nap and wake up 16 hour later" run down. Like "I know you're talking to me because your lips are moving, but my brain can't process what you're saying." run down.
I found myself feeling this way last week. I lamented to a friend, and he told me "you have to find a solution." I whined "but I dooooon't knoooow hooooow" (exactly like that). He quoted our acting teacher "Well, who do we need to call to figure out what YOU need to do about YOUR life??" Through clenched teeth, I had to assent "you're right."
So, this is my personal work right now. And it may be yours as well, if you find yourself in the same predicament. On my birthday, I told you that my "to do" list system needed a makeover. Well, so. do. I. A "de-stress, put your own oxygen mask on first, you ain't doing brain surgery, wake-up call" kind of makeover. This week I've started going to yoga again, and taking time to put everything aside and take a walk or just read when I feel overwhelmed. "It's okay." I have to tell myself "nobody is going to die if I read for 15 minutes instead of working on my 'to do' list. On the contrary, it's a way to ensure that I keep myself ready and able to do the things that I need to do, and I'm always much better AFTER that brief reprieve than I was before.
And I know I'm not the only one.