I just posted a comment over on a blog I read fairly regularly. If you want to read some exceptionally beautiful writing, go read Finding Your Voice. Jennifer Lawler is a gifted writer, and everytime I read one of her posts there are three thoughts that go through my head.
1. She has an amazing talent and prose that gives shapes to words, makes sentences into concrete things and describes feelings that punch you right in the stomach.
2. My writing, in comparison, is crap
and 3., most of all 3., the petty things that I tend to complain about are hangnails taken in the context of what she and her daughter live with and go through.
Go read her blog, really.
I was commenting on her most recent post and as I was considering what she had written, I thought of that old saying "you always get what you deserve," and I thought to myself, no, that's not really true. And typed instead, Nobody ever really gets what they deserve, do they.
But then I wonder, what is it we really DO deserve?
Do we deserve anything?
And where do we cross the line, either way, into accepting what it is we've got or not got, or into being either smugly entitled or sadly feeling as if we earned some kind of terrible karma? When is it OK to say "I earned this, I worked hard for it, and I'm proud of myself," and when is it better to just shut up and be thankful that you've had opportunities maybe other people didn't get?
There's no universal great equalizer that I can determine. There is always the potential of equalization, either via natural disaster, coincidence, or consequence, but the fact of the matter is that in this life, at least so far as I can see, there are always people who have more and people who have less. And perhaps its a simple twist of fate that one person who has a great idea finds the right set of circumstances to turn that idea into wealth and fame, and another person who is also full of good ideas never finds exactly the right opportunity to make it big. That one couple has lots of healthy babies and another couple can't have any, or they have a baby who is desperately ill or who dies. That someone who is less capable gets into the college of someone else's dreams. That one baby out of six other babies gets to go live with parents who were for the most part gentle and loving and the other five got a brutal existence at the hands of a pedophile and their abusive mother. That one guy steals other people blind and lives the high life and doesn't get caught, and another guy can't steal a gallon of gas to get to work on time without getting nailed and jailed. That a faithful spouse gets cheated on. That some folks are unbelievably wealthy through no real effort of their own while others live in brutal poverty simply, each because they just happened to be born to a particular set of parents.
And what is it, exactly, that we are supposed to learn from this? What's the takeaway, kids?
Damned if I know.
Or maybe, I'm not sure yet, but I'm trying as hard as I can to understand.
I am then reminded of David Richo's Five Things:
Everything changes and ends. Things do not always go according to plan. Life is not always fair. Pain is part of life. Poeple are not loving and loyal all the time.
Richo presents a philosophy that says "I can either be crushed, possessed, devastated by the circumstances in my life or I can become a witness to them." This doesn't mean being a beaming ray of sunshine "Oh, hey, everything's great! Yep! Never mind that my marriage ended or I lost my job or I have a terminal illness, don't worry -- I'm just FINE!" No, what he means is that we neither stifle nor give in to the emotions that are an inevitable part of being alive and human, but that we feel them so fully that they move through us and move on.
Neither stoic nor overwhelmed. And accepting that there is a big pile of awful, unfair things that happen in this world that we have no control over. Living with compassion for others and being moved by their circumstances, listening to their pain and caring what happens to them. Caring about what happens to us.
I don't know sometimes how I'll find that balance. Richo and other writers like him often recommend meditation as a path to mindfulness. Which sort of makes me feel left out of the game, because meditation and I are not close acquaintances, not now and not likely ever to be. But I find myself more often turning the radio off in the car and using the silence to ponder life's great mysteries (and try to decide what I'm making for dinner). I'm trying to be less of a "fixer" of other people's lives and more of a witness and a companion to their suffering. I'm working on being willing to let my feelings be what they are and to let go of the need to assuage them somehow.
Maybe I'll never get there, maybe I'll spend the rest of my life looking for pocket gurus to answer my questions and tell me how I'm supposed to live.
I do believe that I'm never going to actually become a truly enlightened being, not on this earth, anyways, but I hope I at least grow and learn enough to find the beginnings of understanding. Because I would very much like to understand.