Thursday, April 24, 2008

Looking the right way

Just when you think everything is going your way, someone changes the rules and you're left floundering around sticking a finger in the dike to plug up the hole and prevent a flood. Standing there all alone while the world goes on around you, you keep your finger in the hole and pray it doesn't get any bigger or that someone will come along with the right things to help you patch the hole. Just when you have run out of options and are beginning to feel the hole get bigger and the trickle turn to a streamlet, a friend who noticed you were missing and stopped by to check on you helps you put everything to rights. There is nothing to do but thank them.

It's hard sometimes to see all the people who have so much to be thankful for complain so bitterly about what they don't have. Some people have the right to complain. Come to that, everyone has the right to complain but they should be ashamed to do it.

Last year I reviewed On Strike for Christmas about a group of women in a small town who stop doing all the things they do for their families during the holidays. They want to teach their families, but mostly their husbands, how much work they do to make the holidays special. Their husbands respond with varying degrees of success and along the way husbands and wives begin to realize they all have a lot to learn about each other and themselves. One of the characters, a widow who is jealous of her friends for throwing away what she would give anything to have, is full of anger over what her friends are doing. They have so much and she has so little. She feels like her friends are spitting in prosperity's eye. She doesn't see that prosperity is within her grasp if she would but open her eyes and reach out to take it. Instead, she's too busy being angry and jealous and focusing on what everyone else is doing instead of looking at what she already has. I'm guilty of the same thing.

Over the past two years I have struggled to make ends meet. It's been difficult but I've been mostly content. I don't spend much money on myself but my bills were paid even though the cupboards were empty most of the time. I listened to friends and family who had their own homes and either a spouse who brought in a second income or made 3-5x what I made and wondered what they had to gripe about. They went on cruises, bought third and fourth cars, took vacations several times a year or went out to eat 2-3x a week. What did they have to complain about? They didn't struggle and juggle finances so they could cover their bills, pay the rent and still have enough money to buy something other than seventy-nine cent Banquet frozen dinners to last until the next paycheck or splurge on a bag of grapefruits, oranges or apples. At least water was free. Working more hours didn't help because the work just wasn't there and the only thing that saved me most weeks was the reviews I posted every Tuesday morning. I didn't realize someone saw what I was going through and was willing to help. I was looking in the wrong direction.

Blame it on pride or on the fact that I'm not comfortable asking for help. Blame it on stupidity or shame or whatever you like, but there's really no one to blame. We all get to a point where we're so busy looking around that we forget to look right next to us. That lesson was driven home for me late last night when I was worried about a situation I found that would keep me from moving to the cottage next month. I was busy running numbers again and again hoping that somehow they would come out in my favor, but they resisted my efforts. Somewhere I had to find some extra hours so I I could plug the hole in the dike. And then a friend quietly asked me a question and told me to check something in a few minutes. I agreed but went doggedly back to work for another couple of hours to pound out a few more reports, diving into work to keep my mind off my problem. When I finished, I checked and got a big surprise. My friend took care of the problem and asked for nothing. I wept.

I can't say there won't be times when, like my sister Carol, I won't look at someone else's life and see only that they have so much when I have so little. I'm not envious of the things they have but I do confess I'm a little envious of what they throw away without thinking. I don't want more things. I don't want to be married. I didn't until recently want my own home. I do not want to have to struggle alone any more, but until last night I didn't realize that I don't struggle alone, that there are people who care and are willing to share their tools and show me how to deal with problems that crop up. For them I am very thankful. There are no words to explain or show the depth of my feeling except in saying, thank you for caring and for being there. It makes all the difference that you were looking the right way when I wasn't.

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