Being Unbreakable: What if There’s No Last Straw?
The notion of the “last straw that broke the camel’s back” seems to date to a theological debate between the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and the Christian theologian John Bramhall. It has survived through the centuries as a metaphor for the notion that a small additional burden or trauma can cause a sudden and complete collapse.
When people talk about why they finally gave up—on a marriage or a business or a friendship—they often identify one last negative event or stress that seemingly made it impossible to continue moving forward. It is as though their reserves of love or courage or trust or hope were suddenly, completely, seemingly irrevocably on empty.
People also use the “straw that broke the camel’s back” metaphor to describe the event that caused them to give up on themselves and conclude that their lives had wandered into darkness that no light could penetrate- that restoration of the self seemingly became impossible. This is dangerous terrain that is the growing place for depression. And it is that terrain which I want to address now.
What is sorely needed at such times is a rule for life that is absolute. And here’s one that might work: There will be no last straw.
The No Last Straw mantra means that no matter what loss or stress or painful event unfolds in your life, you will continue to believe that light can enter your life, again. It turns the last straw metaphor inside out by making it clear that none of us can predict when something helpful or healing or transformational will unfold in life. No Last Straw is, therefore, a philosophy of courage, derived from faith.
Does the No Last Straw mantra do away with pain? No. I haven’t met a human being whose life has not included suffering. That’s part of the human condition.
So many of us need the No Last Straw mantra in our lives. And, sometimes, it can help to look at the lives of others who survived almost unthinkable stresses, in order to remember that we can, too. Think about the late Nelson Mandela, who spent nearly three decades in prison in South Africa, before becoming the first President of that nation. Or, if you could make use of a more symbolic reference point, think about the “Hanukkah miracle,” in which rededicating the holy temple in Jerusalem required keeping the eternal light burning. Trouble was that only one day’s worth of oil was on hand. Yet that oil actually lasted eight days, until more oil could be made. Meaning: The last drop of oil (or call it the last straw) wasn’t truly the last drop.
No Last Straw. I hope those three words can serve as a kind of amulet against the inevitable pitfalls—or truly profound challenges you may encounter during life. The universe, or God, actually doesn’t deal last straws—ever—even though it may sometimes feel that way.
Dr. Keith Ablow