My eyes are going. Just last month I found myself lifting my glasses to read something, the way, you know, old people do. And my knees hurt. And the only impressive thing about the mediocre town we live in is the number of ways it is unimpressive. And I think our water heater is broken. This morning I went to relight the pilot light but got intimidated by all the, basically, WARNING: EXPLOSIONS signs pasted over it. A quick search online suggests a newly installed water heater will set us back a thousand dollars. One day you have hot water, the next day there will be no Hanukkah this year.
Oh, and then there’s Iraq, that whole middle East thing, those families without health insurance, AIDS, e. coli, avian and porcine flu, world poverty, global warming, and all those comets in space hurtling our way.
My friend the brain surgeon can tell you more miserable and heartbreaking stories than anyone I know. The most recent time I updated him on my concerns–about twenty minutes ago–he said to me: “I just informed a pregnant woman, with a toddler in her arms, that her 32-year old husband has incurable brain cancer. So I wouldn’t sweat the water heater.”
Oh great, so now I can’t even complain any more.
But, now, why exactly not?
Of course there are many people with far greater misfortunes than I. But that doesn’t make me feel any better, it makes me feel worse–for not only do I have my troubles, but I live in a world surrounded by people with even greater troubles. Or perhaps my friend means for me to compare how things are for me with how they could be, for me. But I take those heartbreaking stories to illustrate how things probably will go for me, in one form or another. There but for the grace of God go I–but God’s continued grace, and our having hot water any time soon, are two things I’m not betting on.
In any case, if the misfortunes of others means I should feel better about myself, why wouldn’t the good fortunes of different others mean I should feel worse? Those rich people, those beautiful people, those celebrity people–I want what they got, and, frankly, it stinks.
Some years ago a friend said she’d read an interview with Jack Nicholson in which he reported that he preferred to live alone because on his really dark days he doesn’t like to be around other people. “Really dark days?” my friend asked. “What would Jack Nicholson have to feel dark about? Money, fame, accolades, sex, and success–what more could he want?”
You see, I thought, this is human nature. It doesn’t matter how well off we are, things could always be better. And that thought, in fact, made me feel better, at least temporarily. For I realized that, when it comes down to it, I’m really no different from Jack Nicholson. Just minus the money, fame, accolades, sex, and success.
Now if only he’d let me take a shower at his house.
(Reprinted from This I Believe: http://thisibelieve.org/essay/56552/.)