I went to Israel over the summer and things changed. I changed, at least. I don’t know if anyone else has realized it. Because my past self was lingering, at first I worried that it was because they didn’t care. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized my expectations were simply unreasonable: everyone else was just wrapped up in their own Little Things, as usual.
These Little Things, I have them, too. I always have, like everyone else. Like everyone else, I also used to call them Big Things. Important Things. Sometimes, on bad days, The Only Things That Mattered.
But for me, they’ve always been small. They’re the things that weighed on my mind, more than they should have. Bad grades. Average grades. Heck, the mere possibility of a less-than-excellent grade. And then there were speeches, God forbid.
Outside of schoolwork, there were things like not having enough time in the day to read all the books I wanted, or watch all the shows. Maybe my family didn’t have the right subscriptions. I didn’t have unlimited access to music without ads, and I couldn’t sleep properly at night. Only 5 hours of sleep on average! And then I had to go strain my mind for 8 hours a day at school, and what if that lack of sleep brought my A down to an A-? Can you imagine?
And oh, the agony of relationships. The angst! The impossibility of finding a perfect friend, and thus ending up with no friends at all. The debilitating sadness when someone I thought was a friend betrayed me by – how dare they! – not inviting me to a group outing.
Besides that – and this one I’ve always kept more or less to myself – there’s appearance, there’s so much body fat, there’s acne, there’s the fact that maybe the reason I didn’t have friends was because I was too ugly to love.
And I was considered to be an undramatic child. Right. I suppose that was wishful thinking on the part of the adults who said this, who were responsible for caring for me, one of their Little Things, which they could push to the bottom of their long list so long as they didn’t see the drama. And yes, I was more discrete about mine than those who sobbed every night about lack of a boyfriend or who actually failed classes or who were legitimately fat.
But there, in Israel, Little Things are just little things. Because Big Things are BIG Things. Big Things are my aunt having panic attacks every day, because her father refuses to include her in his will unless she divorces her husband. Big Things are the fact that my aunt had never heard of panic attacks before I gave her the words to define hers, which she thought were near heart attacks every time. She thought she was dying. Because the stigma around mental health doesn’t allow psychologists to make a living there, and so they don’t exist. Big Things are the way my grandfather upended the kitchen table during breakfast one morning due to a combination of chronic pain and innate selfishness, and the fact that this was not surprising to anyone who lived with him. Big Things are the fact that my cousin, who is the warmest and most caring 14-year-old boy I have ever met, hates Muslims – not just because of the media or something distant, but because a group of Muslim boys beat a friend of his to death because he was Jewish.
There are so many Big Things there that I can’t even begin to list them all. There’s definitely not room for little things. My Little Things are sources of relief to my family there – what great news that these little things are the biggest challenges I’m facing. What great news that I’m studying Psychology and am a good student, if a bit stressed – do you think you could become a psychologist here in Israel? They ask. You can live with us! Oh. Oh, I don’t think I could do that.
When we got home, my mom told me that she’d considered raising my brother and I in Israel for a time. She said she’d felt guilty that we never got a chance to know our family there, outside of one or two short visits in the course of about 20 years. Besides that, learning to speak Hebrew wouldn’t be a bad thing. Learning our family history, too, wouldn’t hurt. She said that after that trip, any guilt about keeping us in the U.S. was gone. Her hands shook as they squeezed mine and she smiled.
So my perspective has changed. The Little Things which I used to mislabel as Big Things are now, truly, little things. Unreligious as I am, I must admit that I am blessed to be so carefree that I can worry about getting a bad grade on a test. I am blessed that the majority of my concerns are of missing out on a opportunity, not of losing the people I love or myself.
The first time I became aware of someone noticing a difference, a friend called me out for not empathizing as much as I used to as she freaked out over a test. Verge of tears, nearly ripping her hair out, bags under her eyes from lack of sleep – I had told her calmly that everything would be okay. I suppose in the past I would have told her something along the lines of “That’s awful!” or “Your professor is so cruel!” but I don’t believe either of those things any more and I am not a liar. I shrugged, not knowing what else to say. She got a bit annoyed, but I couldn’t truly bring myself to worry about that either. There are so many people who have to deal with so many terrible things on their own; I can handle my responsibilities as a privileged college student on my own if I need to. Of course I can. It’s silly that I ever let myself think otherwise. It’s called independence, and it’s a little bit lonely and it’s far from perfect but it’s also far from being a Big Thing.
“There are children starving in Africa who would die for that piece of broccoli.” That’s what it comes down to. That guilt-inducing statement that adults always used on us in an attempt to make us eat our vegetables and appreciate them, too, and only ever resulted in a shriek of anger and sometimes a full-blown tantrum; but it’s more than that. It’s true, and as much as we’d love to continue throwing tantrums as adults, it’s our job to grow out of that. How can we expect the kids to learn that if we can’t set a good example? And besides that – there’s no one else to teach us that lesson except ourselves now.
So let’s not neglect it. That’s what I’ve decided. Before I panic because I’ve allowed myself to believe that it’s okay to make little things into Big Things, I put things into perspective. I’m really, really sick of acting like a child, especially when so many people, much younger than myself, don’t have that luxury.