I had a meeting with a co-worker in Haiti today. The tears were flowing and the weight of the world was heavier than the 103 degree hot humid air. Novens was over in the corner on a bed that is set up in the living room trying to sleep in spite of his real pain. Novens has been a part of my life since he was in an orphanage I worked at eight years ago. He had never been adopted and had clung to my family for support as he transitioned to adulthood and began working for Papillon. Less than a week ago he was out buying dog food for the guard dogs in the yard and was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle. His knee was shattered and he was taken to the local Doctors without Borders hospital: A hospital that offers free or near free care to the poor in our area. He had surgery and pins were inserted to mend the leg that was shattered. His hip was bruised deeply and the pain was barely touched by the ibuprofen that they discharged him with two days after surgery.

He groaned. My staff person looked up and shook her head.

We both agree today. The needs are overwhelming. They are absolutely unbearable.

Every single one of my staff are heroes. They spend all day working on product development, websites, marketing, problem solving, managing. And then they go home. And every day, every week someone is dying, someone is sick, someone is abandoned, someone is in an accident, someone can’t pay their housing, someone is starving.

It is all around us all the time.

All of the staff who come as foreigners to Haiti and work with Papillon live in the weight of the burdens around them. Constantly feeling the heaviness of the never-ending needs. We try to take breaks, make a practice of self care, get counseling…but it is hard to really make this happen. Our Haitian friends don’t get that luxury, so why should we? We live in guilt. We live in tension.

I looked at my teary eyed friend across from me. I told her to draw a mental line that circles around the people in her sphere that she is supposed to care for. I told her to throw a lasso around them and draw them close. Figure out who you are supposed to be helping and focus on them. It should be a small group. Maybe ten people or a dozen at most. The rest, you have to mentally let go of. You can’t save the world. You are one person. Do a great job with the few you have been entrusted with. Don’t think you have to save everyone. Not every problem can be solved. It is simply too much for one person to bear.

But the guilt is heavy. The grief for the pain we witness is tough. I remember a time I decided not to go help. A baby died. It is hard to live with the what-ifs in that case. But there are moments when I need to stay home. I need to be a good mom to my kids. I need to serve our artisans well by working hard on my computer, or taking time out on sabbatical. I need to keep myself strong for the long haul.  Running after every tragedy is unhealthy and ultimately will render you useless.

So we have to choose our boundaries. Who are we supposed to be helping and where is the line that we need to brake at? It is a tough line to draw. One that sometimes, in this context, can mean life and death.

It is still heavy in the room. Novens sighs and rolls over. He is in my circle. He needs my care. His recovery won’t be quick or easy. It is not easy being present with real life-and-death struggles. Our upbringings in  Europe and North America have not accustomed us to the coping skills that those around us developed long ago. Most of them when they were children.

My co-workers are my heroes. They pull it off. They sacrifice more than most can imagine. The tears and the trauma they willingly suffer through on behalf of the poor is nothing short of heroic. I am blessed to be able work alongside some seriously incredible people. But each and every one of us- all over the world- has a sphere of influence that we can be equally significant to. Where is your lasso? Where are the hurting that you are supposed to love? Focus on them, draw them tight and join my friends in Haiti in loving those around you well.