Standing in the hospital ward on my call last night, waiting for the round to begin and thinking of all the things I need to get done I suddenly hear a scream in the last cubicle and the nurses get up to go look. I run too. It’s a mother with her baby who stopped breathing. His little body lying there, emaciated and helpless, is making the occasional gasp, but he is no longer breathing.
He was HIV positive, having gotten it from his mother at birth and had pneumonia and malnutrition. The Doctors had known beforehand he would most likely not pull through and if something like this happened, he was not for resuscitation.
We walked with his slowly deteriorating body to the resuscitation room while bagging him for a while and calling the mother in to say her last goodbyes. But she wasn’t crying. She carried on as though it didn’t matter to her. We stood outside with sad faces. I had never seen a baby die right in front of me.
I thought about his short life ending, I thought about a little girl in another cubicle with xeroderma pigmentosum – severe skin lesions covering her entire body and face leaving her disfigured and weak for the remainder of her life and likely to develop cancer from them. I thought about the abandoned premature babies in another ward. Then I wondered… Why??? Would that little girl who never spoke and had her skin destroyed ever feel like she belonged somewhere and meant something. Both her parents were deceased. No one was there to hold her or build her up or take care of her broken heart. Would those abandoned babies ever feel like they had a place in this world? Would that mother who was HIV positive and didn’t take enough precautions to prevent this ever value life enough? How did life become so neglected. How did we stop realising how fragile life is? Why did we become so engorged in living a life that ignores what really matters and overlooks pain? And most of all I ask, why do most people leave the world alone because they decided they cannot make a difference?
Have you ever looked out the window of an airplane after takeoff? Watched people become matchstick size, then grain-of-rice-size, then suddenly disappear altogether in their thumbnail cars on the highway?
You watch, nose pressed to the Plexiglas, your breath leaving a fog on the pane. You watch, imagining the hundreds, the thousands, the millions of bodies moving around their homes, driving on busy streets, cooking breakfast on their stoves, running with their dogs through the park.
And you wonder where you fit.
You think about all the people you haven’t met, and maybe never will. You think about the emotions, the unspoken words, the connections you might not get the chance to make. You think of all the cars and planes and trains and busses and sidewalks and highways, one flurry of constant motion. Never still. And suddenly you feel so damn small. Suddenly, the world seems terrifying and your existence is a dot on the map. Do you even have a purpose? Would it matter if you disappeared, faded away, left this earth altogether? Would anyone know you were gone? Does anyone see or hear or feel your pain right now?
And like clockwork, you’re in your own head, filling it to the brim with negative thoughts. It’s as if you’ve realized, for the first time, that life doesn’t stop just because you’ve lost someone you love, because your heart is broken, because you’re lonely or tired or afraid or sad. But you convince yourself the world doesn’t stop because you don’t matter. And that’s so far from the truth.
The truth is, the world doesn’t pause. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t drastically change because you’re hurting. But that doesn’t mean who you are or what you’re experiencing doesn’t matter.
The truth is, your emotions are just teardrops in a giant freaking ocean. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t making a ripple if you choose too. That doesn’t mean you can’t touch other people, connect, make that ripple become a wave. That doesn’t mean your pain is any less valid than the people around you, or that your teardrops don’t carry their own volume and weight. That doesn’t mean your heartache isn’t real or that you need to lessen yourself to let others express their burdens.
Your agony, your guilt, your frustration, your failure, your pain—those are real and valid and matter. You are real and valid and matter. Don’t let the world and your insecurity tell you otherwise.
Yes, you are tiny, but even the tiniest of pieces are significant. Even the tiniest pieces can make an impact, can have a voice, can create change, can affect the people and things around them and cause others to stand up.
Even the tiniest can make the whole.
Maybe what you’re experiencing right now feels devastating. Maybe your whole world is crashing in, and it seems like no one is listening. You have to understand, first, that the world owes you nothing and won’t always give you the love and support you need, but that doesn’t mean what you’re feeling is unimportant.
Your pain might not be the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like the end of your world. And that doesn’t mean people don’t care. That doesn’t mean your existence is meaningless.
If you think about the airplane, watching people and houses and cars and roads all fading from your window, it’s sort of a metaphor for life. When we’re so zoomed out, it seems like all of us blur together. It seems like all of our experiences are pointless and impermanent, shuffling through until one day it all ceases. But when you focus in, you see that each person is crucial—the mother, the daughter, the brother, the cousin, the school teacher, the doctor, the businessman, the mailperson, the secretary, the sick, the weak, the lonely, the poor… When you focus in, you see how each person directly affects those around him or her, how each of us has a purpose, a role, a duty, an importance. When you focus in, you see that we are actually so big, so capable, so able to make a change in the lives we touch. And when our little voices speak, they blend with others, creating a glorious, unified sound.
But that all started with one.
So when the world and your tired mind tries to tell you you’re too tiny, when life tries to shuffle away your pain, when people try to diminish your feelings, when you look at the earth from an airplane and just feel so damn small—remember that you matter. To people around you. To the causes you believe in and the things you stand for. To the changes you have, and will continue to make if you choose to make them. To the world, in little, yet significant ways. You may be small, but small does not equal weak. Small does not equal unimportant. Small does not equal purposeless.
So step forward, open your mouth, raise your voice, speak your truth, feel your emotions. Let go of all the futility and superficiality. Whatever you’re going through won’t last forever, and you won’t have to go through it alone. You matter. You are heard. You are loved. So love others, make others feel heard, make others feel worthy and less alone.