I’ve noticed something recently that bothers me. So, since this is my nature (and this is my blog) I’m going to (more or less politely) rant about it a little bit.
I try not to characterize people by their generation, because it’s fruitless and inaccurate and annoying. But something I’ve found to be true of a good portion of my generation is that many of them show a great capacity for compassion. Maybe it’s all those Care Bear cartoons we watched as kids, but something a lot of us highly prioritize is the ability to see beyond someone’s behavior or appearance to their circumstances and to truly empathize with the struggles they may be experiencing. This is a wonderful trait for obvious reasons.
But it can also come with a surprising downside to which I’ve been privy several times in the recent past.
Part of being so full of empathy is that one naturally begins to see one’s own life through the lens of the greater universal experience. One begins to measure what one does (or doesn’t) have against the truth that many spend every day having even less (and that some will always have more).
By and large, this is a wonderful thing to add to our general perspective.
And then comes the guilt.
The last few public holidays (April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, and the like), I’ve seen an overwhelming number of posts talking about how our celebration of such holidays needs to be tempered by the realization that there are others out there struggling with these and other holidays for a few possible reasons. And I understand this. I’m all about being sensitive to the very real struggles that many are going through on a daily basis and have no desire to make someone feel bad for not having what I cherish. But at what point do we acknowledge that the guilt of having is taking over the celebration of what we’ve been blessed with? At what point does having something wonderful come with the constant burden of apologizing to others for fear of your happiness hurting their feelings? At what point do we ask why it’s unacceptable to be publicly grateful for the good things in our lives?
Having experienced both a divorce and a miscarriage in the not-too-distant-past, I can thoroughly understand the feeling of everything being an unpleasant and uncomfortable memento: pregnancy and birth announcements, wedding and anniversary pictures, family pictures accompanied by sweet words celebrating the joy of raising children with your soul mate. In short, it was impossible to scroll through facebook without receiving powerful in-my-face reminders of the things I had lost or was in the process of losing. But in that time period, painful as it was, I could not ask or expect that anyone else lessen their own joy (or refrain from expressing it) because of my pain. In truth, it wouldn’t have decreased the aches in my heart in the slightest. Nothing brings attention to a gaping emotional wound like having your friends and family and friend-quaintances tip toe around you because of it. If anything, seeing other people celebrate reminded me that those truths, those possibilities, weren’t dead just because of my experiences. It gave me hope that other people were still having love and happiness and that, once this season had passed, it could be possible in my life again too. Not that all of this went through my head while I was observing the happiness of society at large and wallowing in my own personal misery. But looking back I can see that the celebration of those who had those things did, in some ways, do me good. When we suffer loss we need to know that loss isn’t all there is. We need to be reminded that every happy ending can’t be appended with a “what about me?”
What ABOUT me?
It can be inordinately difficult and breath-stealingly painful to feel like the only person in the room whose life is lying in tatters while every one else celebrates what it feels like you’ll never have (or never see again). I’m not discounting that. And it is important, in the midst of our own happiness, to be sensitive to the fact that others may be going through a period of emotional, physical, or spiritual poverty and loss. If anything, our own happiness should give us the perspective, kindness, and courage to reach out to those who may desperately wish for a taste of what we’re feasting on. But the last thing anyone needs who is already suffering is to be looked at with pity, apologized to for the happiness others experience, or encouraged to view everyone else’s blessings with bitterness and loathing.
Those who suffer are among you, yes. And for every joyful celebration you experience, there will be someone wishing they had it or mourning the loss of it. But the solution isn’t for nobody to be happy. We don’t ask much. A simple reminder of your love and friendship and (if applicable to you) prayers does wonders. And, please, keep celebrating. We need to know that the good is still out there, even if we’re not in the middle of it right now.