Last night I had the amazing joy of being with my sweet nieces and nephews while celebrating the New Year with my family. While the adults played games and talked I went with a group of little ones upstairs (the eldest niece said - "come upstairs AliAunti!) and we ended up reading books. I had kids scrambling to find a place on my lap which seemed oddly too small (probably the only situation that would make me want to not be as slender as I am!) After reading a couple other stories I said that we could read one more before dinner - my niece picked up "The Little Engine That Could" and I began reading. The story is about a broken down train who is trying to take toys and good food to the children on the other side of a mountain. Big strong trains come by but refuse to help the little broken engine. Then a very old rusty engine comes by but leaves saying "I cannot, I cannot, I cannot." Finally the little Blue Engine comes and says that even though she is small she will try. "I think I CAN, I think I CAN, I think I CAN" she says over and over as she makes her way up the mountain inch by inch. Of course the end of the story is that the Little Blue Engine makes it up the mountain and delivers the toys and good food to the good little boys and girls on the other side.
I was thinking about this story and what an important lesson it shows for all humankind. We ALL (not just those of us with physical illness) have pain in our lives and things which seem too big to get through. The important thing is to believe that we CAN do what we need to do. Not giving up like the rusty old engine, but being willing to go inch by inch (which is sometimes embarrassing as other big engines go steaming by!) with a positive outlook. The challenge is to not look at ourselves and how small we feel - but rather to think of others (a crazy idea according to a pain counselor I once had!) and how we can serve them even though we don't feel like we have much to offer. Thinking of others is the best way to get through our own struggles.
There is also a lesson here for those who help care for those who are in pain or ill. Sometimes caring for someone who is "broken down" is very hard. Sometimes you feel like you (a little blue engine) is not the one who can help best. Maybe a bigger, stronger engine can help better. But you too can do so much if you put your mind to it and go bit by bit rather than thinking that you can solve everything all at once. Sometimes a kind word of understanding, a hand to hold, a glass of water is all that those of us in pain need to remind us that someone cares and is with us even though we might be "broken" in the eyes of the world.