Because of that life perspective, these individuals are happy in spite of the negative things that have happened to them, not because of the good things from which they have benefited. I wanted to learn from and imitate such happiness.
In the February 2011, just one year ago, I lost my job, and two short months later I found myself face-to-face with the realization that I also might lose my relationship. I was devastated and, sadly, felt the future looked pretty hopeless. “Everything I’ve worked for,” I remember telling my best friend, “has just gone out the window. I’m reaping none of the benefits I expected but, instead, am being mistreated left and right.” I couldn’t figure out what I had done to deserve what was happening to me, and I obviously couldn’t see past myself.
But two months later, I read Laura Munson’s book, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is. Sure, I identified with her premise: a man she loved was in crisis. But I also identified with subtler points therein, her struggles in other realms: moving to a place where she had struggled to fit in, trying to build a career, and grieving her father’s untimely death. The circumstances I faced weren’t exactly the same, but I found hope in the unlikeliest of places: her acceptance of the fact that she didn’t have to be a victim.
The results of my own acceptance were profound. I challenged myself to do things I’d never done. I met people I never would have otherwise met. I went places I’d never visited, spent quality time with old friends, created a beautiful home in a new town, and learned to love and accept myself. In the process I decided that I am not defined by my failures, and I completely let my guard down. I created beauty despite sadness, learned to identify the more in less, and truly came to appreciate life’s simple pleasures (including an exquisite sunset, a hot cup of coffee and the untold kindness of strangers). I clung to my vision of myself, rocking peacefully on the porch of a mountain chateau/beach cottage. And though it was a period of trial that I certainly don’t want to relive, I can honestly report that it was a period of unexpected happiness, the power of which Laura Munson had suggested.
Still, something happened and the train got derailed roughly six months into the project. That something? Nothing horrible at all: the superficial crisis ended. It was clear that my relationship with Mr. Wonderful was growing leaps and bounds, and my job was turning out to be far more satisfying than I had ever anticipated. My service opportunities became numerous, and the friends I’d lacked and hoped for, for years were suddenly plentiful. I had learned how to find more in less and to appreciate life’s simple pleasures; why was finding more in more so difficult? And I had learned to find beauty in ashes; why was finding beauty amongst something other than ruins so challenging? Furthermore, I had everything I ever wanted; why was I becoming arrogant and ungrateful?
The answer is rather complicated. To begin with, when we have more to do, we have less time to sit back, meditate and relax. And when we have learned to find peace in the unsettling quiet, dealing with and lovingly responding to the literal noise of someone else’s complaints and needs day-to-day can be a daunting task. Likewise, when we’ve had no one else to take care of but ourselves, it can be difficult to remember to do that whilst also taking care of someone else. And when we have had such low expectations in the professional realm, being rewarded for our hard work with actual opportunity can be both a blessing and a curse, as we generally are rewarded for it with more work. So, it’s not easy to stay humble when we’ve been asked to perform as world-class jugglers. We know that what we’re doing should seem impressive; when someone we love acts like it isn’t, we become defensive.
And so it was that I went from being humble and grateful to becoming arrogant and unbearable, all in the span of a two-month period.
None of this came to me until this weekend, when I was got frustrated by and wanted to shout at Mr. Wonderful. “Don’t you see that you’re doing too many things?” I yelled in my head, steam shooting out of my ears. “You have lost sight of what really matters, and you’ve become critical – when you promised that you wouldn’t ever take anything for granted again! You need to slow down, reassess, and learn to find and create your own happiness once again. You’ve reentered the everyday world; this is no longer a period of crisis. And while that means that you have more to be grateful for, you also have less time on your hands and, therefore, fewer opportunities to sit back and emotionally and mentally process it. You have to learn to balance not just your schedule, but your responses to it.”
I know what you’re thinking: how could I not see that I was the pot calling the kettle black? I honestly don’t have an answer to that. I just didn’t. And I think that’s because we’re predisposed to find fault with others and overlook the same faults in ourselves. We never view the world from another’s perspective, even though this is of critical importance, as David Foster Wallace so famously instructed. We have to realize that the world doesn’t actually revolve around us, and that includes understanding that other people don’t exist just to cater to our needs. The sooner we realize this and carve out our own paths to beauty, peace and happiness in the midst of everyday challenges, the better things will seem. It is, after all, deceptively easy to adapt to life if we become hermits. It’s significantly harder when we are forced to engage the real world and confront everyday injustices, difficulties and inconveniences. That’s when we have to decide whether we will let those injustices define us, as well as how we will respond to them. The choice is ours to make; it isn’t prescribed. We don’t have to view ourselves as victims, and we don’t have to be harried, overwhelmed and selfish. We can learn to be balanced.
This morning, on my way to work, the traffic was horrific. What should have taken 35 minutes took just shy of an hour (that is, a full 75% longer), and absolutely nothing seemed to go right. At a crucial intersection, after a back-up was cleared, I needed to take a right. But it wasn’t just me that needed to make that turn; it was everyone for two straight miles behind me. And there stood one guy, typing an email on his blackberry, stopped in the middle of the road. It was shocking to me, so shocking that I laughed hysterically and yelled, “REALLY?” to myself, within the confines of my own vehicle. “THIS IS A CROSS WALK!” the guy shouted angrily in response to hearing me. “I AM WITHIN MY RIGHTS! I AM A PEDESTRIAN!”
And that is when I broke into laughter and kept laughing the rest of the way to the office. That that man thought the yellow lines on the road justified him sending an email while standing still in the middle of it and holding up hundreds of people who were also on their way into the office was shocking to me. How could he be so ignorant? How could he think that my amusement was related to not wanting him to send an email or walk in the crosswalk? How could he not see that completely stopping in a major intersection to type his oh-so-important email was holding up hundreds of people who might also want to send emails?
How could he?
He = kettle. I = pot. And this = water. Clearly.