Limits or Limitations?

Show me the hand...
“Show Me the Hand.” Photo by Monstera from Pexels

I was reminded recently that not everything can be fixed.

Not everything can be fixed by me. Alone.

I cannot solve world poverty. I cannot prevent or resolve childhood sexual trauma. I cannot absolve or rehabilitate perpetrators. I cannot remove unethical politicians or governments. I cannot make personal or global family do my version of the right thing.

I cannot make the world safe for others; I have barely made it safe for myself.

Fixing the World

And yet, for a long time, I thought I could fix the world. I could fix anything!

Eventually, gradually, I have come to understand that I cannot fix, but I can make a difference, and I have. In small ways. Here and there. Here and now. In my little corner of the world.

Making a difference is not the same as fixing anything or anyone, including myself. “Fixing” leaves no room for grace or for the agency of others in our shared reality. On the other hand, making a difference is easy by comparison: simply being in the world is enough. Fully being.

There is no getting around it; the world would be different without me. No one else replaces me; no one else can replace me. It is time for me to claim this fundamental fact, no more and no less, whether or not I do or “accomplish” anything. I am not diminished because I am no longer a fixer. Being a “be-er” is fine.

Sometimes it is hard to just be. It is hard to just be in the now. Past memories persist, past wounds persist, past regrets persist, past limitations persist. Tucked away in the cedar chest of my mind, limitations remain. But there is something else in there as well: unclaimed possibilities. Paths not taken. Decisions not made. Joy not acknowledged. Happiness forgotten.

Limits vs. Limitations

Some days I open my smooth chest of past limitations intentionally. Most often, however, it flings open almost by itself or is triggered by another’s actions. When it does open, much more than limitations fly out, even if I do not notice right away. Forgotten possibilities spill out as well, gasping for air. There they are, waiting for their moment to be remembered, to offer delight once more.

I look at all the neatly folded memories, some of which are moth-eaten in spite of the cedar. Others have weathered the years well, still pristine and lovely, their intensity undiminished. Especially undiminished are those harsh memories, the ones with limitations. Still as alive as interminable hurt. Still capable of intense emotion. Are there memories of joy tucked away in those folds that are at least as intense as the pain? Always. I am learning to look for the joys, now more than ever.

When I finish rummaging through my cedar chest, this is what remains with me:

  • I live in a world that is jointly created. Others help me make my world, even if the vision was initially my own. As a result, distortions are inevitable because we are looking through many eyes and multiple overlapping visions.
  • Only through shared imaginings does change occur. Thus, in keeping with my desire for change, I have concluded that:
    • Some things are better left unsaid
    • Some things are better left alone
    • Some things are better left unfinished
    • Some things may never be fixed in my presence or my lifetime
    • Sometimes I can offer wisdom or emotional support or money or time
    • Sometimes the only thing I have to offer is a healthy self, which can only remain healthy if I step away from the fray
  • The gift of my body is that it tells me things about limits and limitations I cannot otherwise hear:
    • This is too much
    • This is toxic
    • I have gone too far
    • If I insist on pushing I will make myself sick; meanwhile, everyone else may be feeling just fine

“Here I Stand; I Can Do No Other

I am tired.
I am sad.
I am angry.
I am disappointed.
I cannot do or fix another thing.
I must set limits. Unilaterally.
I must give up expectations for others to change. Period.
I must be gentle with myself if I find that I cannot change.

Being is sufficient.
Change is not essential for me to experience joy.
Hope is present and possible.

It is time for a nap.
It is time for a walk.
It is time to write.
It is time to feed a wild bird.
It is time to photograph a flower.
It is time to look up at the sky and smile, thankful for my limits.

I am finally learning to stop calling limits limitations. These are not the same.

The World Will Take Care of Itself

Not everything is about me. I must leave a bit of the world to itself. Leave a bit of it to others to explore their own limits and possibilities in their own way. Even to explore their own limitations. With their own resources. I can listen with compassion and advocate on behalf of others, but I cannot be them or replace them or create their world. This does not mean I have a free pass to be complacent; I just no longer have to manage everything. The kids are all right; the world is all right. They just have to find their way. I will offer myself when and where I can. Together. Within limits. Without limitations.

As for me, as for now, it is time to relax and smile.

Published by Helen L. Stewart PhD

Endlessly curious, writer, speaker, blogger, intuitive, author, consultant. Retired university academic administrator and faculty member. Citizen of the world. Traveler. Human being. Perhaps in reverse order.

8 thoughts on “Limits or Limitations?

  1. Helen, what a beautiful, heartfelt, and insightful post. I deeply resonated with these sentences: “I just no longer have to manage everything. The kids are all right; the world is all right. They just have to find their way. I will offer myself when and where I can. Together. Within limits. Without limitations.” Thank you! Happy holidays!

  2. Helen, I hope you know how powerful this piece of writing is…. Can’t imagine who this would not speak to. From my heart I personally THANK YOU for all the words you share…. such truth, depth, humility, gratitude, so much “Life Lived”

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