e’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” too often to actually register the meaning.
Was the proverb once meant literally? I don’t know anyone who literally cries over spilled milk these days. But our prolific axiom crafting ancestors (they spewed axioms out their noses) might have held their dairy products dearer to their hearts than we do. I like to imagine the soap operas that played out in their kitchens: the futile attempts to staunch the hemorrhaging of downed jugs of milk, the tender caressing of shards of pottery that shall never hold milk again, the weeping and chest-pounding at the precious white lifeblood on the floor, and the milk dirges sung thereafter.
No, it couldn’t be. The proverb was never taken literally. It was always tongue-in-cheek. The point of the proverb is: don’t cry over things that are clearly not worth crying over. This begs the question: DUH, isn’t that obvious? Why do we need a proverb for that? The answer is: because we do.
There are whole books devoted to this simple idea with names like Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and Who Moved My Cheese? The premise of the latter is that rats in a maze adjust instantly when the cheese they’ve been seeking is suddenly relocated, whereas humans tend grieve or pout when their aims are similarly frustrated. Why waste that time? Why not adjust instantly, like rats? The book manages to promote our least favorite rodents as role models, which is a feat in itself. Who Moved My Cheese? is a fancily disguised version of the old milk proverb – just with a different dairy product.
I don’t mean to diminish the proverb. The message is profound.
Rather than dwelling on the nasty business that happened just then, keep your mind always on the just now.
The proverb could be revamped for the lactose intolerant: “Don’t fuss over lost sunglasses,” or “Don’t frown over spaghetti on your shirt,” or “Don’t cry over spilled shave ice.”
Forgive the universe for gravity. Forgive milk jugs for their damned fragility. Forgive your fingers for their slipperiness. Cheerfully (or at least stoically) accept the reality of the just now, and move forward accordingly.