Let’s face it, life is pretty darn good. Most days my biggest complaint is that my kids are bickering. Not hunger. Not lack of water. And something deep inside me feels intensely guilty about that. Having been raised with fundamental ideas about justice, this seems to fly in the face of everything I know. Living with a 9 year old also who precisely recognizes fairness also makes me feel disproportionately well off. Like when she asks, Why does that man have to live outside? After quietly whispering *shit* to myself, I open my mouth and hope the right words come out.
My favorite journalist/writer is Nicholas Kristof. He writes for the New York Times and co-wrote Half the Sky with his wife about how the mistreatment of women in the world is the central moral issue of our times (I know, you already love him, too). His contention is that when we see large amounts of sick, war-torn, disenfranchised, powerless and victimized people, we retreat into being overwhelmed and go into shut-down mode. But if we see ONE person, one child maybe, we can access our compassion more readily. And that’s what I’m trying to do. What a lot of us are trying to do. Feel compassion, act on it and quit feeling like shit that I live in a nice house and drive a nice car and live in a free country. Damn it.
When I look around or talk to my friends, I can often see them doing the suburban dance. Meaning, they are busy, busy, busy. Me too. Guilty as charged. But I wonder sometimes if the reason I am doing it is to somehow make it alright that in comparison to many folks out there, I have won the fucking lottery. If I slow down, if I say “no,” if I take a break and enjoy some down time…does that mean I’m not grateful? Does it mean that I am somehow keeping myself insulated from suffering? That people will think I don’t care? That I am preventing the proverbial other shoe from dropping? Of course not. But that is sure as shit how it feels.
Still, it’s tough to reconcile the good fortune so frequently seen in the suburbs compared to those in other parts of our country and the world. SNL hilariously put this into focus with White People Problems. Sometimes, don’t you hear yourself saying shit and going…umm…really? That’s what you are complaining about? Some that I have heard recently are: depressed dogs getting Prozac, lack of weekly recycling service, needing to clean out the refrigerator because there is too much food in there, being inconvenienced by red lights and where to build the new vacation home. Now, I am certainly not immune to this kind of complaining. After all, I did have to stop and get gas on my way to yoga while I was not working or taking care of children. What a pain in the ass.
For me, the best way to balance the scales is just to give. Not necessarily money, just giving. Spending an afternoon at your kid’s school. Volunteering at the Food Bank. Walking around the neighborhood and picking up trash. It’s not hard to find need. But what is hard is knowing your limits and when you are done. And frankly, this is where a little self compassion comes into play. You know, take some oxygen before you give it to the kids. If you aren’t sure how you rate on self compassion, there’s a great quick quiz here to try. Most of the time, I can forgive myself for messing up. For not being the best listener. Or being impatient. Or just plain being selfish. But, with Martin Luther King Day coming up on Monday, I hear his words in my ear: Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” And then I remind myself. He didn’t say “now” or even “weekly.” He didn’t even say how. That is up to you.
When my daughter asked me at age 6 why our souls were born here and not in a place that was at war (think the Congo or Afghanistan), I didn’t know the answer. I still don’t. But maybe I don’t have to know the answer ( I am much better at asking questions than giving answers anyway). I don’t always feel this way. But when I get that nagging sensation, I know that it’s time to go spend some time folding and sorting clothes at the outreach. It’s time to share in some community writing. It’s time to go to the zoo with the kids class. Whatever the reason, I’m here in the suburbs. Living, sharing and raising some young humans. Bad things can happen. But I can do some good. It’s time.
Do you feel lucky?
Thanks to Barbara Paulsen for the sweet photograph. I am lucky to know her.