I found this comic a while back, in When Do the Good Things Start? by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski. It was an instant favourite, and I’ve been thinking of it ever since.
It’s a game we all play. Stop anyone, anyplace, and they can probably give you three reasons why their life is worse than the average person out there, without thinking twice. Ever listen to ladies on a park bench? (Me neither, I also don’t have kids yet!) But y’know what they say – each one is outbidding the next for a better tear-jerking horror story. And in a way it’s true. We all have it worse off than someone else. What we forget is that we have it better off than some people out there too.
In truth it doesn’t matter at all. There will always be people with more and less. And while it’s important to focus on the balance, it’s even more important to realize that the entire discussion is bunk. We’re not in competition. I can have it hard, and you can have it hard, too. Harder and Hardest don’t have to come in to play.
I used to keep track of all the childless couples I knew. Then, when (thank goodness!) they moved along, I would tally up if we ‘beat’ them by ‘sticking it out’ longer. Pathetic, I know. It was a subconscious thing, but I found myself doing it every time I heard good news. (And heaven forbid I confuse that tally with the one of How Many Cousins Married After Us and Had the Audacity to Give Birth Straightaway, not to be confused of course with the precise count of How Many Nieces and Nephews Came After Our Wedding, and, and, and – you get the picture…At least my math skills were improving by leaps and bounds, if nothing else. Good grief.)
But then I realized something strange. By constantly comparing my situation to others, I was isolating myself, and cutting away any chizuk I could have drawn from those around me. By accepting that what I’m going through is really, really tough – irrespective of everyone else (or as Lucy says, “because it happened to me!”) I was able to put things into perspective and realize that while I may be in this alone, others are alone in their situations as well.
And then a strange thing happened. I found myself gaining strength from people in places so different than mine. My single friend, who is always smiling despite the years… The Down Syndrome child’s mother, who parades her kid around proudly during Simchas Torah although I’m sure her heart aches… I realized I don’t own pain, and by seeing how others deal with their circumstance I can effectively learn how to grown in mine.
But there’s more. Along with the comparison game used to come feelings of tremendous guilt. I haven’t been in this as longs as so-and-so, why am I not coping as well as she is? Why do I fall apart each month, when I should be grateful for cycles that are a sign of health? How can I join that support group if I never tried x-and-x treatment? I don’t deserve to be as miserable as I am.(Okay, being miserable is frankly not recommended. But you get my drift…) I don’t really deserve support.
And then I realized it was all the same. It’s all part of drawing comparisons that should have no place in our lives. My situation is mine, and my coping skills, challenges, and feelings, are uniquely mine as well. Naturally, my situation is hard(est). And that’s because it’s mine. Similarly, your situation is yours. And that’s not mutually exclusive in the slightest.
See, why can’t we be alone together? So much of the hurt we feel is from being the only one – the only one waking up at the crack of dawn, the only one enduring physically, emotionally, and financially depleting challenges on a regular basis, the only one facing constant disappointment day in day out, the only one struggling with something that comes so effortlessly to others… Can I propose, that perhaps by reaching out of our little box of pain, we will realize that we’re not unique in being alone? We’re really not the only one. And maybe, at some point along the way, the aloneness will dissipate just a bit – enough to let in a touch of comforting togetherness…