“Only” is one of those words that can speak of everything from loneliness to hope.

“It’ll be only me,” friends might say when RSVPing for a party, a wedding, an event. I’ve been only me for a while, and while I don’t remember the last time I had an issue with this kind of “only,” I know it’s not always the most comforting of words for many.

Sometimes I build up a situation to dizzying heights in my mind, when the reality is “only” a fraction of what’s in my head. I often manage to deflate the issue and move on, but until “only” comes into the picture, I can spin myself up with the best of ’em.

“Only five more,” my trainer from many moons ago would say to me. I hated him during my sessions — in an I-really-appreciated-him sorta way, but those five more reps meant I was getting close to the end of a set…until he’d throw in two or three more of whatever we were doing. The nerve.

Only a few more days until the weekend. Until payday.

Only a few more weeks until Thanksgiving, a few business trips, and then Christmas.

Only a few more months until my brother’s wedding.

Only a few more years until I’m 40.

OK, five. Five more years.

“Only” glosses over the importance of a few dollars (“It’s only $14.99!” when, in reality, too many $14.99s and suddenly you’re nearing $100), but “only” can encourage giving to those in need (“It’s only a few dollars, and the man on the street corner needs it more than I do”).

Sometimes the challenge with “only” is that we avoid other things around us to get past a particular hurdle, or to get to something that we’re really looking forward to. It seems like remembering to slow down and not fast-forward will forever be one of life’s challenges. But how great is it to know that most things we fear won’t kill us, and that it’s “only” a matter of time before they pass?

Conversely, how great is it to know that if there are “only” a few hours left of an amazing vacation, you can always book another?

Tonight I am thankful for only and its many faces — faces that remind me to slow down, to take everything as it comes, to remember to toss in a grain of salt here and there and to keep my wits about me.

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