Standard of Comparison

As I drove along the river road this evening, a story on the radio penetrated my tired brain.  The words reverberated through the car.  A young man’s voice told of shopping with his mother; of planning a meal; and of going to a friend’s house to spend the night.  To that point, he could have been my son.  But his next sentences stunned me.  An alarm sounded; he rushed home; and then spent hours sorting through dead bodies in a bombed building.  His mother’s cheek; his father’s finger; his sister’s tiny handbag — thus did he identify his slaughtered family.

I pulled my car into a turn-out and shut off the motor.  Other words rose in my mind.  Not words of desperation or joy, but a simple, short argument.  Someone chastised me for considering myself fortunate by comparison with others.  That’s not how life works, he insisted.  What others have or don’t have has no relevance to you.  You should have better; you should have more; you should have fewer struggles and less pain.  His voice quivered and his face grew red.  I touched his hand.  I accepted that he could not understand my point of view.  I even believed he considered me to be more worthy than the people who had less even than I.

As I sat in the quiet of my vehicle, the sun eased itself downward on the far horizon.  I raised my cell phone and idly captured the moment with its camera.   I glanced at the photos, taking a moment to post them on social media almost without thought.  Still I tarried, replaying the story of the boy whose family died.  Then I found myself shivering as the darkness around me deepened.    I started the motor and continued home, jumbled words playing over and over in my brain.  What is the purpose of living if I can’t recall my father’s voice, whispered the anguished young man.  Why should I complain when my life could be so much worse, I repeatedly demanded of myself.  You deserve everything, raged the man who claimed to love me, furious that I seemed willing to accept my mediocre lot.

Later, I opened the sunset photos on my laptop.  The bigger screen showed details that I had missed.  The turbines spun in sharp relief against the brilliance.  Clouds danced across the gentle glow high above the intensity of the vanishing orb.  My aging eyes beheld this splendor.  My crippled hands grasped the cell phone steady enough to record it.  My feet worked the pedals of a machine that allows me to travel 20 miles when my legs alone could never make the journey.  

When people ask me how I am, I cannot help but answer:  No bombs fell on my village today. I also lost my mother far too soon, but to the slow decline of disease.  I had a chance to say goodbye.   My house stands; it has not collapsed beneath the rage of war.   I do not dwell in luxury, yet beauty surrounds me.  I cannot help but consider myself beyond blessed.

It’s the twenty-third day of the one-hundred and twenty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

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