Earlier this summer, we went on a family visit to a pizza restaurant on a farm. There were goats, music, and a carefree feeling in the air. There were also flies. Lots of flies. Our two-year-old daughter was terrified of the flies. To be fair, she had never really seen a grouping of flies before, so it made sense to be afraid. One fly might have been tolerable, but dozens had the making of a horror story. At least in our daughter’s mind.
After a few failed attempts to temper our daughter’s concerns regarding the flies, we shifted focus and ended up taking our pizza to a park down the street where we suspected there would be less flies. A few minutes later we arrived at a mostly fly free park with a picnic table and were ready to begin our lunch. A few minutes after that, the kids were off playing at the park, and we had all but abandoned any hope of a family picnic.
We ended that day fulfilled and very much enjoyed our time together. The terrors of the attack of the flies that our daughter endured shrunk in importance as the gratitude for our time together grew. Overall, it was a very a good day.
However, like most things in life our perception of the day’s events was based solely on our own experiences and our daughter’s commentary regarding the day was limited to a two-year-old’s vocabulary. We truly had no idea of the impact of the flies until a few weeks later.
To celebrate our son’s fifth birthday last week, we went to visit family who live on a farm. As one might guess, a farm has many flies. We had all long forgotten about our daughter’s unfavorable reaction to flies and regarded them as annoying at worst. Our daughter seemed largely indifferent to the flies at the farm so collectively we decided the files were no longer an issue. We had all moved on.
The departure from the farm took longer than we expected, and it was hot so we opened all the doors to the minivan while we waited so that we might enjoy the occasional cross breeze. We loaded the children and ourselves into the van without a second thought of flies.
It wasn’t until we reached the freeway, did we fully appreciate the gravity of our situation. Our daughter started yelling “Ouchy, Ouchy” and screaming out in pain. It only took a few seconds to realize that there were flies, or at least one, that was circling our daughter who was helplessly strapped in her car seat as we drove down the highway at 70 mph.
Each time a fly landed on her, she yelled “OUCHY” and cried harder. To her, these flies were not pesky annoyances but rather the bringers of death and destruction. As heart breaking as it was to watch the horror unfold in the back seat, my husband and I fought faint smiles and muted laughs as the drama of it all rivaled a blockbuster movie.
For the next twenty minutes I held our daughter’s hand while awkwardly stretched from the front seat to the back, while simultaneously swatting away the flies who were undoubtedly obsessed with her by this point.
The trauma of the car ride home was quickly forgotten as we moved on with our nighttime routine. However, once the kids were asleep and we were able to reflect more on the day our perspectives shifted. One thing that stuck with me was that the flies only needed to land on her for her to perceive pain. She was not being bit nor was she being hurt but nevertheless, her pain was real.
Once our daughter had in her head that flies would cause her pain, they did. Therefore, every time she felt one land on her, she perceived it as pain. As comical as this may seem to the casual bystander, as parents we had no doubt that her screams were authentic, and her fear completely justified in her own mind.
It wasn’t until I validated her fears, protecting her by swatting the flies away and comforting her by holding her hand, was she able to relax enough to realize that just because she could feel it, that it didn’t mean that it hurt.
What a powerful concept. Just because we feel things, it doesn’t mean they hurt. Our pain, therefore, is in our own perceptions and within our power to change. It also serves as a reminder that pain is pain. It doesn’t matter if it is real or imaginary as the impact is the same. We can never truly know how someone else perceives an event, so we should do our best to empathize and take them at their word.
Today, I will remember that just because I feel something, it doesn’t mean that it hurts, or even that it is important. There are dozens of metaphorical flies that land on us all every day. Some people will not even notice while others may crumble under the pressure. I will strive to be patient and kind to those around me as they each have their own way of dealing with the flies of life.