I’d see those guys every day. I’d be waiting for the bus at the station, beat from my 12-hr work day, I’d pray that the bus would lumber up in the snow soon and swoop me into a nice heated seat. When the bus finally pulled in, I would then watch the guys sneaking in off the street, using the salt-stained vehicle as a cover, running into the station as if they were part of the other fare-paying customer corral coming off the bus.
Heathens! Malcontents! Artichokes! Phylloxera! Iconoclasts! (Clearly I’ve read too much TinTin in my life…thank you Captain Haddock). What angered me was that it was just so unfair. Why should I have to pay while those cats get to just stroll in, unencumbered by the weight of paying for their ride? Why do I feel like such a shmuck standing there just allowing them to break the law freely? Did it even matter?
Here’s a tweet of mine from the other day:
So it isn’t fair, is it Pauly? Well, of course it isn’t. Guess what – life isn’t fair. Huh? I know – that’s something that everyone knows. Or is supposed to know. You see, at the age of 43, I am just getting this. Just. Now. About thirty five years too late. This is something that was probably taught to me in grade school, but was probably in the boy’s loo when that part of the lesson was handed out (ironically, I was probably hiding from the bullies who were treating me unfairly, don’t you know?)
The idea that there were people out there who are going to get fame, fortune and all of that, treat people poorly and somehow still find a way to have others adore them and die not knowing the pain they brought onto others was something that brought me a lot of grief. On the flip side, some beautiful, generous and kind people would live horrible, poverty- and violence-laden lives, to die alone, perhaps savagely, with nothing on their feet or in their bellies. To think that this would continue to happen long after I leave this mortal Slinky-like coil drove me bonkers.
So what does this have to do with anything? I mean, we all understand that life is not about justice or who deserves what. I mention all of this because I have been thinking a lot about gratitude, and the power that lies within it. I have been thinking about how I have been my entire life, and about my recent life. I have been thinking about how I think too much and how I have been coming across as of late. I have been allowing things to sink in…something that doesn’t happen often enough for my liking. Sometimes my mind resembles a colander, clogged with yesterday’s mashed potato remnants. Ewwwww.
Gratitude. We speak of it often in meetings. It’s bandied about in recovery and spirituality circles. It’s tagged in plaques and posters and inspirational / motivational declarations. Get grateful you ingrate! Or die! (Okay, maybe bad examples, but you know what I mean). Gratitude is a broad topic, and can branch out into many areas. But what I want to share is that the idea of life being “unfair” or “fair” is matched evenly by how I view gratitude and the perspective it gives me.
When I think about how things are unfair to me (and as an alcoholic, it’s almost always about me, of course), I lose sight of the big picture. I lose sight of where I stand in the grand scheme of things. When I get into the sickly head space of “why why why me?”, I am blocking the light of things that are already serving me. Because in the end, life is unfair. And I don’t say that with a sneer or a metric tonne of irony (unlike the Starbucks baristas making your latte this morning), but in a very matter-of-factly way. In a way that actually brings me to a place of acceptance.
When I feel that things are unfair to me, what I am really saying is that I am more deserving than others for some things. I am putting myself and my needs about others. I am putting my well-being (my slanted view of) above others. It says that I know best in regards to what people should and should not get. It harbours jealousy and envy and all sorts of malicious ways of thinking. When I look at someone and point and cry out “Unfair!” I am really speaking out of wounded pride and ego.
So what does “fair” look like then? What is fair?
There is no real thing as “fair”. There are similar words such as “just”, “equitable”, “unbiased”, “neutral”, or “non0partisan”. They shed their own light in more specific ways, but in terms of what people “deserve”, that’s a cheesecake of a different flavour. What’s fair to me isn’t fair to you. So I can only focus on myself – the only thing I can change in my realm of being. (Note: I am not talking social justice or anything like that, where societal conscious can be influenced by healthy resistance and other ways of protest and declarations of change. I am not talking about corporations raking in millions while children starve to death in unbearable conditions. This is about things at a more personal level.)
So what about that woman who steals your ideas as her own and gets a raise or promotion because of that? What about the sleazy, slovenly flat mate of yours who gets the girl you’ve had an eye on for a while? Unfair, isn’t it? Yeah, it is. But who’s to say that these things weren’t meant to be? Perhaps it isn’t luck or fairness at play here, but perhaps this is what those people need so that they can grow in some way. We often grow most when we are in tough situations or uncomfortable ones. Those folks, while it may seem that they have “won” the day with their ill-found booty (no pun intended), who’s to say that they aren’t struggling in a way we don’t see?
I used to rail against people who coasted through life, who prospered off others, who took advantage of others. I work hard for what I have, so how fair is that?? That’s how I used to think. I don’t fly off the handle much more now when I encounter them. Why? It’s because I see that they, like everyone else on this planet, are fuelled by fears. They may not even know they are afraid, but they are. Perhaps that is the only way they know how to be. Perhaps they aren’t being malicious after all, but just unaware. So who am I to judge? I have done a TON of clueless, malicious and non-malicious damage. I have coasted through life myself at times – drunk and self-pitying. Spiritually, I was on the side of the road, cap in hand.
Have I been completely honest my life? Not at all. Have I taken what is not mine at some points? Absolutely. Have I been a cheat, a liar, a thief. Yes, yes and yes. Have I walked away from situations where I should have been horse-whipped and shown to all as an example. Sure. So who am I to tell others what is best for them? Who am I to say what is “fair” and what isn’t? I’ve had my share of hoodwinking others. Emotionally scamming. So being the arbitrator of other people’s lives is worthy of a hearty laugh! (or guffaw, if you prefer.)
So perspective is what keeps the over-reactive ego at bay. Understanding that it’s really none of my business what happens to others allows me to walk away with a certain detachment that keeps me in a more peaceful place. Sure I still might find myself annoyed, but it’s a far cry from the unhealthy and debilitating resentments that used to keep me frozen in my mind. Perspective frees me from the bondage of self and allows me to see things from a different point-of-view.
Those people who sneak into the subway? I am sure they aren’t happy to be doing it. I am sure they are full of fear – fear of getting caught, fear of being judged by others (like me), etc. I am sure that if they need to cheat the transit system, they probably need the money more than the company does. I know a guy that works for me who has to sneak onto the train sometimes because he can’t afford the $6 each day. I don’t judge him, and I don’t lecture him. It’s his deal, not mine. He knows it’s wrong, and he feels bad, but that is where he is right now in his life. Who can honestly say that they would never resort to that? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
When I tweeted about the cruelty of life with my little twist of my ankle there, I was clearly over-reacting. My wife, who was behind me when I hurt myself, said “Wow, something out there reallllyyyyy doesn’t want you running.”. And that is what brought me to a dark place – why me, God? I finally find something I love and brings me peace and joy and a healthy body and it’s taken away!! Why? (Picture me on my knees, in the rain, at night, screaming this out for full dramatic effect. Yeah, pretty silly.) It’s an injury. Runners get them all the time. Someone told me recently that they had to cancel six marathons because of injuries.
Oh, okay. So….um, I guess it’s not that bad then. And oh, I went to physio yesterday and she said that things are healing and I should be able to get back to long runs in July. Oh okay, so…um, I guess it’s not that bad then. I had to learn, in short time, to detach myself from the idea that I would be running a marathon in October. That it’s not the end of the world. Let my ego know that it’s wrong in how it sees things. Perspective.
I thought of my sober blogging friend Kristina at Sober and Awkward who recently started serving a six-month jail sentence for a drinking and driving charge. Here I am bemoaning a sore leg and she’s having to wait a week to get enough money to buy shampoo at the commissary. Perspective. I could have easily been in her situation, as you know. So perhaps God has a different idea of what “fair” is for me and her and those in our lives. And things could have been worse for Kristina (and me) – someone or some people could have died. Today we’re alive and sober and no one got hurt. Sounds pretty “fair” to me, in the end, doesn’t it?
When I feel that I am getting the short end of the stick, it’s usually because my perspective is warped or I am not seeing the opportunity for growth and love and acceptance. Acceptance is the key. Acceptance and perspective give me the tools to see things in a different light, to lighten the emotional load, to come at things in a new way. I may not “like” it, but I learn to let things go and eventually I experience things with greater clarity which helps me later down the line.
Fairness is a concept, not often a reality. My mind can barely deal with the minutiae of my day let alone lofty ideals such as what is best for me or others. So I stick to doing the next right thing in front of me. Not worry about others and what side they are in the cosmic ledger. It’s just easier that way for an alcoholic like me who likes to complicate things.
Seems fair to me.
Please check out Kristina’s pages here and here to get more information on how to get updates on her and how to send her letters and even cash to help her out during this tough time. There is an email address that you can get updates from her boyfriend, D, who will pass on specifics about how to send funds and how to send letters of support. I am sure she would appreciate her sober friends spreading a little sunshine into her world! (She has handled this whole thing with grace and dignity, and I am humbled by her own perspective on things.)