Do you remember the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  when Ferris wants Cameron to come pick him up? Cameron was in bed, sick and miserable. Ferris persists until we see Cameron in the driver’s seat, furiously arguing with himself. He starts the car. Revs it up. Yells. Shuts it off. Gets out. Kicks rocks. But somehow, Cameron overcomes his own resistance, scoops up not only Ferris but his girlfriend and embarks on what turned out to be the best day of his life.

We’ve each had that feeling, the massive ‘weight of life’ that’s too much to throw off. The effects of the divorce process can be like that. Our inability to extricate ourselves from lying in the cocoon of self pity. We’ve each been through something so overwhelmingly traumatic that a trip down the hall seems like a cross-country journey. Building a summer home in Atlantis would be a simpler task than functioning during this divorce. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, getting out of our own head and back among the living will ultimately save us from the divorce process.

I’ve been doing a great deal of volunteer work lately, which got me to thinking about the therapeutic payoff of putting others before ourselves. When we put others first, especially those seemingly less fortunate, the exchange is anything but one-sided.  We receive unexpected gifts in exchange for our service, be it a shy smile, a look of gratitude, a shift in thinking or maybe just a short respite from our own preoccupations. It’s far more intuitive to give of ourselves when we feel great and have a surplus of resources, but what about when we feel depleted?  What if we took a moment to put others before ourselves when we felt like we had nothing to give and no means by which to give it?

But how in the hell am I supposed to do that when I can barely drag myself out of bed? 

I don’t know. I haven’t figured it all out yet, honestly, but I think I’m onto something. 

Consider the last time you had your heart broken. Not the garden-variety breakup, where you mutually decide over a sensible, egg-white omelet that separation is for the best. No, the kind of breakup where losing her was like losing a front tooth to a suckerpunch. Sudden. Brutal. A gaping loss. It was to be ages before the swelling went down and longer before you smiled again. When she left, she took with her your ability to breathe. Grief paralyzed you under an agonizing, suffocating blanket of pain. If you didn’t take drastic action, your tombstone would’ve read “Here lies John – who succumbed to Heartbreak’s Caldron of Fire”.

That kind of heartbreak.

Now picture this. Squinting against the hot sun, you wipe your brow with the corner of your softest t-shirt. Like rings on an oak tree, bits of sawdust and dried sweat date back to well before lunch.  Unfazed by your own disheveled appearance, your eyes examine your work. Bending to retrieve your hammer, the ache in your back brings a smile to your lips. It’s a  pleasant reminder that you’re alive.  Breathing. Despite the pain, or perhaps because of it, you realize you actually feel pretty damn good. All the way down to your core. With the posture of someone on a mission, you slowly straighten up and adjust your tool belt, smiling all the while. A family in need is waiting to move into this house and these nails aren’t going to set themselves.

But how in the hell am I supposed to do that when I can barely drag myself out of bed? 

I don’t know. I haven’t figured it all out yet, honestly. But I think I’m onto something. 

Or picture this.

Sunlight pours in through the window across the room. The underbelly of green leaves flutter in the trees like minnows swimming in the breeze. The man at your side holds up a drawing. His hand shakes and his speech is affected. With a reassuring smile and the full attention of the room, he describes his drawing. Him, before the accident. He points to thick lines and blunt circles. You’re impressed by his use of color. The passion with which he speaks. His struggle to articulate the line of demarcation between the life he knew and the life he now lives. The tight circle of kindred souls, battered but not broken, bursts into applause. Nurses wheel the artists out, one by one. Given a brief reprieve from the quicksand of your own life you return the art supplies to their rightful place.

But how in the hell am I supposed to do that when I can barely drag myself out of bed? 

I don’t know. I haven’t figured it all out yet, honestly. But I think I’m onto something. 

The next time the emotional weight of life feels too much to bear, try volunteering as a means by which to resuscitate your spirit. Yes, you may feel incapacitated, but physical labor for those in need does both the mind and the body inexplicable good. Yes, you may be emotionally battered and bruised but lessons on perspective, respect and the indomitable human spirit are given daily. Yes, you may feel as though your own emotional tank is empty, but we always have a little more to give. You are far more capable and richer in time and talent than you thought. By being of service to others, your willingness to show up and roll up your sleeves is the only cost of admission.

When your Ferris calls, answer.  Get your butt in the car, get over there and pick him up before he finds a new best friend.  Go give of yourself. You’re not dying because of this divorce, you really just can’t think of anything good to do!

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