Swallowing four uncoated Advil without water was a bad idea, but I was desperate. An hour into our family’s volunteer shift at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, I’d already lost my battle with back pain and wasn’t about to admit I couldn’t keep going. Apparently those peeps who wrote the Proverbs verse “Pride goeth before a fall” knew what they were talking about.
Our task at the Food Depository was straightforward: box up endless husks of corn to be sent to area food pantries and soup kitchens. Along with 50 other volunteers, we scooped up armfuls of corn and carried them over to boxes lining a nearby conveyer belt.
Our efforts would ensure hundreds of local families had fresh corn to eat over the next few days. Two hours of bending and lifting would ensure I’d be in traction for the same.
The assembly line work was fun at first. I started off in my natural “can do” enthusiast mode, chatting up the other volunteers and striving to be a good team player. While my older daughter rolled her eyes at my eagerness, I felt proud of myself – “Look at me in a group, being a people person.” I enjoyed watching how other people approached our joint task and admired the power of a group in action.
An hour later, I’d lost my joy. My team spirit and positive attitude quickly followed. My neurons screamed for me to stop bending and lifting. I felt cranky and old, yet we still had another hour left to our shift.
My patience with teamwork disappeared like the memory of a sexy dream and soon I was picking people apart in my mind, no longer appreciating our varied humanity, instead fantasizing about who I could lose my shizz at first.
Would it be the sweaty man next to me who grunted like a over-muscled gym rat every time he bent into the corn bin? Or the woman who spent all her time straightening the corn instead of boxing it?
I needed an attitude adjustment and the ibuprofen burning my esophagus wasn’t going to cut it. I was done but didn’t want to admit it.
I hate having limits. In my mind, I’m still as lithe and supple as the twelve year old across the bin from me who bent over at her waist repeatedly like a deranged drinking bird. Doesn’t she know she has a limited lifetime allotment of pain-free hinges, and she used up at least seven years worth that day?
Looking over at my husband and daughters working diligently, I tried to convince myself that I’d done enough and had nothing to prove. I could stop whenever I wanted. Right?
But where would we be if everyone stopped whenever they wanted? Don’t we need people who push through pain to accomplishment, Annie Warbucks-style?
I had a choice. I could save face by ignoring the signals my mind and body were sending and pay the price later. Or, I could respect my limits and sit my ass down. Hiding in the bathroom was an option too.
Have I mentioned how much I hate limits? After picturing all the starving homeless people who would be denied corn if I stopped and swallowing my pride (it stuck in my throat right next to the Advil), this time I chose to honor my limits and not hurt myself to prove my worth. Instead I spent the rest of my time handing out hair nets and hand sanitizer. My pride took a beating, but my back appreciated the loving choice.