Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Good Will & Life

I love to buy books from Good Will. It's great to pay less than two dollars for a book - that way if it ends up being lousy I don't feel too bad about it. I like to have a fresh stack of books nearby. I am always reading, and when I finish a book I need another one. Good Will helps with my book problem.
The book I'm currently reading is Before The Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It by John O'Hurley. That's right - J. Peterman from Seinfeld. Mr. O'Hurley is actually quite wise and well spoken, and I am really enjoying this book. It's a series of essays, written as advice to John's infant son as seen through the eyes of his dog. A chapter I read last night is titled "On Skunks, Poison Ivy and Little League." Here's my favorite excerpt:

"...Life isn’t fair. I am reminded of this every time I see the pictures of the hollow eyes of children in Africa near starvation. Why them? I am also (albeit less profoundly) reminded of it when I continually catch my toe on the end of the bed as I make my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Why me?

Life is not just unfair in cases of deficiency, but sometimes in abundance as well. There are people who have won the lottery more than once. I have seen gamblers bring a casino to its knees without breaking. I have occasionally driven the length of Santa Monica Boulevard without having to stop at a red light. I have found a crinkled-up twenty-dollar bill in a pair of old jeans I no longer wear. But I never say, Why me? in these instances. We tend to think of the inequity in life from the perspective of the have-nots rather than the haves. Sometimes we do get more than we deserve.

I often wonder what life would be like if it were fair. What if we got exactly what we deserved? There would be no skunks or poison ivy. I would never have been kept after school. I would have been co-captain of my little-league team, along with a kid who had thick glasses and protruding front teeth. I would have gotten every role I auditioned for. I would not have lost so many friends through accidents and disease.

But if life were fair, it would be a life without growth and perspective. There is meaning in suffering, as difficult as it is to endure. From it we learn humility and persistence. There is appreciation in abundance. From it we realize that life is full of grace as well.

Much as we depend on gravity to provide weight, we need suffering and abundance to give life a sense of context. Without gravity there would be no resistance, and everything would have the same weightlessness, floating aimlessly without distinction. A mountain grows tall and gives us a better view the more it moves against the resistance of the earth.

It is a pretty philosophy to regard suffering as an opportunity for growth, but it does not fill the stomach of a starving child, and I have no answer for that. I believe that God can do all things, but I have come to realize through personal experience that sometimes He does not. I believe there is a plan that is beyond my comprehension that allows a place for catastrophic human suffering for reasons that reason will never understand. If we accept that unfairness is inevitable as long as we are alive, we can shift our focus to the far more important issue—how do we cope with suffering, both our own and in our compassion for the suffering of others?

Remember this: You are not your circumstances. I’ll say it again: You are not your circumstances. What happens to you, good and bad, is not the essence of who you are. Your circumstances are external to you; don’t invite them in. They are unwelcome guests; they will try to make a victim of you. You will paralyze yourself with fear and depression if you let the unfairness of life become part of who you are. Conversely, you will become vain and arrogant if you become absorbed by the abundance and good fortune that life will also bring your way.

It is not what happens to us in life; it is what we do about it. And that is the second element of coping with a world that is inherently unfair. How you react to both adversity and prosperity will determine your character, and, in many cases, your circumstances.

…So think less about the life you deserve, and enjoy the one you have.”

(note: Above artwork is available as part of THIS clear stamp set from Impression Obsession, designed by me! Shameless plug...)  

"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."  —Thomas Jefferson