Of Titrations & Straws

Happy to report I survived my first holiday season but not without trials and tribulations. Intensifying the serrated emotions was a long list of to-do’s necessary to shut down my late husband’s business as of 12/31/18. I succeeded. I also plummeted back into the almost paralyzing anxiety I existed in after his diagnosis.

By early December, I lost my ability to decipher between a major or a minor crisis. Any snafu elicited gut-twisting fear and panic. There were more than a few to chose from. A flat tire. A dead battery. An infestation of bees. A broken door lock. A temporarily misplaced cell phone. Two incorrect bank deposits. A botched social invitation. A broken wrist. Blinding fits of rage and fury blooming from nowhere. Total meltdowns over not finding a parking place or forgetting an appointment. Crowds in the stores and maniacal holiday driving. Each small challenge added a burden in my psyche much greater than its individual weight or importance.

Then I remembered the titration experiment from Chemistry 101. I loved that lab enough to briefly declare myself a Chemistry major; my tendency to break equipment right before the final step soon put the kibosh on the fantasy. But the titration lab taught a lesson I’ve never forgotten: when something is in balance – but just barely – one tiny drop of something opposite can change the entire state. A yellow solution will turn magenta when one drop of a specific pH indicator is added. Add one more drop and magenta reverts to yellow. One drop.

Only one drop.

Chemistry musings inevitably led to my happy-place in the land of cliches. Belatedly, I realized “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was the titration experiment summed to an idiom. Research suggests a variation is “the last feather breaks the horse’s back.” Regardless of which beast is burdened, the nit of one more feather, or one more piece of straw, can tip the balance and make the “entirety of one’s difficulties unbearable,” to quote “phrases.org.uk.”

For reasons I may not fully understand, I find these ideas enormously comforting. If one drop can make the solution change, another one drop can change it back. An average camel can carry nearly a thousand pounds but at some point, one more piece of straw will be too much. Unlike the camel, we can try to monitor the load on our backs and accept or reject new cargo accordingly.

Here’s to a happier new year for one and all.


Add yours →

  1. Maintaining some sort of balance is so when grieving, Yet critical. Your awareness is perfect.

  2. You are a very strong lady and things will change for the better. Thanks

  3. Here’s to a drop in the right direction…your writing.

  4. Haven’ T heard from you for a while.

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