The Relativity of Gratitude

I often hear people say that perspective is based on personal experience and cannot be compared to others' situations. This may be true but I feel like I should be able to empathize and take action to help people who live in horrible conditions due to circumstances out of their control. You can't control where you are born, who your parents are, where and when you grow up or the schools you go to.


Should a wealthy family who wants for nothing be able to feel grateful every day because there are so many who have nothing? Can someone who has endless food and restaurant options understand an individual who does not know when he/she will eat again? If a food-insecure person were suddenly to become wealthy and have access to endless food, would their perspective still be very different from the family who never wanted for anything?


Is this the case with every aspect of life, with its wonder and ugliness, its problems and beauty?


Feelings of happiness vs sadness, gratitude vs taking things for granted, and empathy vs anger/ resentment are usually in the context of our own life experiences, family, and history. I try to be cognizant of what I have and not envious of what I don't have. I do this by consciously remembering people who live difficult lives, die young, are oppressed, tortured, hated, or physically/mentally ill. Certainly the news makes us aware of these things every day. Even so, sometimes that isn't enough and I get angry, depressed, or play the victim anyway. I can't reside full time in someone else's reality.


In my younger days I had a lot of resentments and acted like a victim. Poor me, poor me. I wanted to blame something or someone else for all of the bad things that happened to me, which included things as minor as losing an earring.


The truth is I have had my share. I was born with a large hemangioma on my face that needed surgery when I was a young child. A scar remains which is the size of a quarter. I have severe scoliosis (100 degree curve) and an eating disorder. I lost a child, and my husband cheated on me resulting in my being a single parent with 3 boys under the age of 10. My mother, who is a mentally ill individual, always put herself first and was abusive.


In spite of all of this, I have plenty of good things in my life; intelligence, a good career, a lovely home, food on my table, and friends. I tend to see the glass half empty, which does not serve me well. My dad, who was also my hero, saw everything half full and I did not inherit that from him!


The truth is that I often forget others' struggles. It is very hard to put their shoes on my feet unless it is thrown in my face, so it is easy to get caught up in the 'stuff' in my head. I feel selfish for doing this. Hence the name of this post - gratitude is relative.


There has been progress. I had the kind of week that 10 years ago would have resulted in feelings of depression and isolation for days, even weeks. The cliche 'bad attention is better than no attention' was my mantra. Now, with more perspective, wisdom, and age I can take negative occurrences in stride if they don't involve illness or injury of/to others.


This week, a glass pan I was using to simmer tomato sauce exploded in front of me. The glass didn't just break, it exploded. I received some minor cuts but it is a miracle I didn't get badly burned. Gratitude!


Speaking of burns, I gave myself (by accident of course) a doosy of one - 3rd degree on my arm. It was very painful and ultimately itchy but it is healing nicely without infection and no trip to the ER or Dr was needed. Gratitude!


This week I was also planning to meet a friend for lunch 45 minutes away. We haven't seen each other since Covid. Five minutes away from my destination, I heard a horrible noise coming from under my car. I pulled over. Something was dragging on the ground under the car. I felt unsafe to drive. I waited over 2 hours for service to tow it to my dealer. In light of the pandemic the tow-truck driver's policy was to not allow passengers in the truck their vehicle. My driver had no problem taking me there. Gratitude! It was late in the day so the dealer said they would look at it the next day. I had no way to get home (40 min away) or to get back the following day. Knowing this, the service person agreed to at least try to diagnosis the problem while I waited. Turned out to be a relatively inexpensive problem to fix and they were able to remove the offending part so it would be safe to drive until the part was ordered. So, it might have taken all day, but I got home safe and sound with no disruption to anyone else. Gratitude!


Somehow I was able to keep perspective during all of these and deal with them appropriately. Instead of desperation and playing victim, I focused on the solutions. Gratitude kicked in and I was able to maintain positivity. Mindfulness and taking action one step at a time without projecting forward helped. I even laughed at these situations.


I know in the relative scheme of things these are first world elitest problems, but they are my silly problems. I am lucky to have these types of problems and to succesfully solve them. Especially during these crazy times of a worldwide pandemic and a divided US nation, I feel fortunate to have problems such as having too many tomatoes that resulted in the tomato accident.


So, I may not always be able to feel the pain of those who live really difficult lives based on their birth or circumstances, but I can always try to help those less fortunate and be grateful for what I do have.

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