The Morton Salt Girl


Droste effect – Morton Salt Girl, holding a salt container with another Morton Salt Girl, and another, and another…

The Morton Salt Girl is an example of the Droste effect, a picture within a picture within a picture. It keeps on repeating itself with no end. The way my brain handles emotions reminds me of this effect. I capture images of my hurt, pain, discomfort, and sadness, pictures within pictures, until those images, those feelings, are so small I can barely see or feel them anymore. Buried.  They are like a dream, details so clear when you first wake up but as the day goes on you can barely remember any of it. That is my self-preservation, my resiliency.

Except the pain is still there and when it climbs its way back to the surface, it can be unbearable. I am fortunate that it doesn’t last long though, especially with the right amount of sunshine, caffeine, and laughter. I tend to bounce back within a day or two.

Sometimes I have to fake my way through the smiling and laughter, but eventually I can shrink the sadness back into the tiniest of pictures. Talking about it (for me) keeps it lingering in the air longer. And when there is no solution and you can’t reason your way out of it, it’s better to shrink it and lock it back down. Read some positivity quotes, convince yourself you are all good, and move on. (Healthiest coping mechanism? Probably not.)

As humans, I would think emotion makes us unique and we should embrace all of our emotions. We don’t though. Crying makes everyone uncomfortable. I remember telling my girls at an early age, don’t cry, shake it off, it’s going to be okay. Which in hindsight, in our efforts to make people happy, we are basically telling them not to feel. But if we don’t allow ourselves to feel sad sometimes, how do we know we are happy? Isn’t it a balance?


So crying is uncomfortable and we are always suppose to gravitate towards the happy. Then when someone else is hurting, I am not sure how to handle it. Hoping to react in a way that provides them with comfort without becoming emotional myself, I prepare for worst case scenarios.

Not long ago, I did just that. I prepared for two different scenarios, one good and one bad, to make sure I was ready to handle either outcome. The funny thing is, since this person was trying to hide their pain, they used a diversion tactic that I hadn’t expected. When all I had planned for was to provide comfort and support, it became about me and I couldn’t escape it. Everyone has their way of dealing with sadness and some change direction and sucker punch you to throw you off.  I was too busy fighting for breath to be able to be the person I had hoped to be. Then you run away and you hear the words your father said to you a few months back, “you are self-involved, you just handle it differently”. And you finally start understanding exactly what he meant.

I carry the guilt with me over not being able to control these emotions. I feel guilty, because exposing my grief is not strength and how can you comfort someone if you are in tears? Why do we do that? Why have we learned that crying is not okay? And hiding that you are overcome with grief for them and the situation they find themselves is more acceptable? If it were the other way around, I would comfort that person who was crying for me and my pain.

So what is the silver lining? Eventually the sadness recedes and you recover. Even if at first the smile is fake and the laughter sounds hollow, the more you force yourself to smile and laugh, the sadness shrinks back down, smaller and smaller, and it’s manageable again (the Morton Salt Girl). And through that grief, you see more clearly what you are grateful for.

Maybe you learn next time you don’t need the words, you just need to show up and hug the person who needs it. Even if you can’t control your emotions. Stop trying to prepare for something you can’t prepare for. I may be self-involved at times, but I refuse to not be self-aware. I am resilient, but I am not cold. I am capable of accepting my emotional discomfort in order to look someone in the eyes through my tears, because that’s what they need even if they try to distract you so you don’t see their pain.

We are all so complicated, but without our connections to each other, what’s the point? There are people in this world who I have shed tears for, and they have no idea that someone was trying to carry some of their pain for them. I want people to know, even if they don’t know me well, that I am hurting for them, because I would want to know that. Especially when I experience a great loss. Isn’t that what makes us human? And this seems even more important now when forces around us are trying to get us to focus solely on ourselves and not worry about others that may be going through hard times.

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