Before going on the One Day Writer’s Retreat last month, I asked for a list of random titles to write about – testing my ability to write ‘on demand’. The title ‘This is normal life, it’s not easy! was suggested by my friend Trish.
I love to lose myself in a good film. Or maybe a few episodes of Downton Abbey… I try to read Pride and Prejudice every year as it is my favourite book in the world – and when I do I’m there… at Longbourn, in Meryton, on Cheapside, in Pemberley. But I know I can’t stay there. I know I have to come back. Back to normal life.
I don’t live in abject poverty, I don’t even live in pleasant poverty. I have a good life, I am happy in my marriage and although I am sad that I’ve no kids, I don’t grieve like used to about that. I have a strong faith that helps me, guides me, encourages me, teaches me and shows me where I’m going wrong. I have a huge family that I love to spend time with and I have a great circle of real friends. I also have quite a few Twitter friends too – or twiends as I like to call them.
So who am I to say that my life isn’t easy? Can I give myself permission to acknowledge the tough things in life, when there are others who have it so much worse than I do? Surely as they say, if we threw all our troubles in to the middle of the room would we all take our own back?
That old adage is probably very true. But I wonder if that’s because we can only see and feel the implications of our own troubles; and the familiarity of those troubles is what would make us choose them over the unknown quantities of anyone else’s. And it is THAT ability to only really understand our own situation and not be able to fully enter into someone else’s that gives us the right to say… my life is not easy!
Let’s take for instance… a toothache. We’ve all had one. So you and I are sitting together watching TV and you tell me that you have a dreadful toothache. I sympathise and I empathise, because I’ve had a toothache and I know the pain and discomfort it brings. In an effort to affirm that I get your predicament, I tell you the story of my toothache and how terrible it was. You’re encouraged that I get it, and we continue to watch the TV…
You are constantly distracted by the pain! It is stopping your enjoyment of the film. It comes in waves and at points it makes you close your eyes, swallow hard and want to cry. You are determined to go to the dentist tomorrow. I know you’re in pain, I see you ‘wince’ and I say something like, “God love you, have you taken a painkiller?” But I’m not distracted by your pain. In fact if you weren’t moving about so much I might even forget that you’re in pain. My sympathy is 100% genuine and my empathy is too, cos I’ve been there. But in this moment I don’t feel your pain, because I’m not in pain.
Does that make me uncaring? Does it make me selfish? I don’t think so. I’m physically incapable of feeling the pain of your toothache, but I’m still sorry you have one!
There are in this world, people who cannot help but feel the pain of others and it inspires them to go and change their world. Mother Teresa immediately springs to mind. But there are many nameless faceless Trojan workers who tirelessly (while in a complete state of tiredness) work for the good of those less fortunate than themselves. But a lot of us don’t. A lot of us try to make our own lives and the lives of those nearest to us, as good and as happy as we can.
Because this is normal life, and it isn’t easy! (Even if it is easier than someone else’s!)