“Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while,
a great wind carries me across the sky.”
— Ojibwe saying
Many people will remember this quote from an episode of The Sopranos, and this is where I first heard the saying. It made an impression on me in some way that is not easy to identify, as there seems to be a lot more meaning behind the words than first appears. This first part is definitely true for me– sometimes I go about in pity for myself. I tell myself stories. “I do all the housework and my husband just gets a free ride, and he doesn’t even care.” “My friends should be reaching out to me more in my times of need. Don’t they care about me?” “My job is drudgery, and I am an unsung hero.” It all sounds really silly at this moment. This morning I am feeling rather happy and pleasant sitting here drinking my coffee. I know very well that I am not a victim– a poor little girl that everyone disregards and takes advantage of. Yet sometimes for long stretches, I truly believe these things. I cry about them, get angry, and behave as if they were true. I go about in pity for myself.
Of course, there also times when I am legitimately in need of support, and it is not always quite there when I need it. The sticky thing about emotional support is that– as I am finding out daily– we usually have to ask for it. People cannot read our thoughts and sense our needs. That is a great learning in itself; however, the times when we most need emotional support are often the times when we feel most unable to reach out to others and ask for it.
Think about a situation when you felt broken, lost, out of control, or scared. Let’s say someone close to you passes away, and it affects you deeply. You don’t want to tell all of your friends and acquaintances about it because it’s difficult. It brings casual conversations to an awkward halt, and you don’t want to bum everyone out. Or maybe people know about this tragedy already. You feel like your friends should already know that you need support, and because they “should” already know, you don’t reach out for their help and you don’t tell them how much and in what ways you need them. You keep folding in on yourself, and grief, isolation, and anger keep spinning their web around you making it ever harder to get out.
This is time when it is natural to go about in pity for ourselves. But if we can turn that self-pity around and let it morph into something more beneficial for us– self-love and self-care perhaps– it can be a very good thing. To do this, we must bring mindfulness to the situation. We must pause and say to ourselves, “Here I am. I am in a difficult situation. I am struggling and I am in pain.” And then, we must react to this information just as if we were hearing it from a close friend, a child, or a sister. We would say (now to ourselves), “I am so sorry. I want to care for you in the best way that I can. How can I help you? What can I do for you?” This is the beginning of turning the pity into love and tender loving care. And then…we must answer these questions for ourselves. The answers will be different for all of us, but one of the answers will usually be to tell someone else or to reach out of that dark cloud in some way to ask for help. Not everyone will be able or willing to give the help that we need, but some will, and this will save us.
Now, what about the final part of this saying? “…and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky.” This feels very true and comforting to me, but to be honest, I have trouble putting into words what it means to me. Many people will understand this as it relates to a higher power, that there is a plan for their lives which will all be revealed in its time. If this is your belief, I think it is quite a comforting thought– that all suffering is for a reason, and that all will work out for good. As much as I sometimes want to, however, I cannot believe that. (Please understand that I don’t think the belief is silly or wrong. It just simply will not fit in my head.) So then, how and why does this idea comfort me? For me, I think it means to remember that there are other things at play than I know of, and I should trust in that. If we take the grieving example again– and let’s be honest; this is not a random example. This is me, right now– here I am, going about in pity for myself. I have my head down, my gaze inward ruminating on what “should” be happening, what others “should” be doing, how it “shouldn’t” be so hard.
And all the while, things are happening out of my line of vision. My husband is caring for me in the best way that he knows, and his love is quietly and constantly remaining. My family is in this with me. My friends are thinking of me and maybe talking about me, but they don’t know what to do and they have their own lives and pressing concerns. My colleagues are making exceptions for me because somehow they know I am not myself. And somehow, like a slow wave swelling in the deep ocean, things are happening inside of me that I will reflect on and discover only in the future. I may be growing stronger. I may be coming to understand and love myself better. I may one day take this grief and do something with it to help myself and others. Straw may be turning slowly into gold. Something, something is happening, though slow and hard to see. A great wind is carrying me across the sky, and all of us, separately and together. That is what this Ojibwe saying means to me– that in my time of inner despair, my best self knows that there are subtle forces at play, that this grief and fear is not all there is. Even when it seems that it is all I can see, it is not all there is.
“Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky.”
— Ojibwe saying