Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Consider Yourself Lucky

Life gets me down sometimes. It probably has sometime for everyone reading this…and everyone you may know. I get tired of the drag. I grow weary of the struggle, the scraping, the uphill battle to succeed; because that’s what it is all about, success and happiness. They seem intrinsically bonded together in this life, as you can’t have one without the other—or so we’re led to believe. But it is life as a whole—the big picture—that seems so dreary at times.

Life is always hard, unfair, silly, sometimes pointless and most times quite pedestrian. We spend all our times eking out fame, fortune or fortitude and spend so little time with the rewards. The good guy doesn’t always win; nice guys don’t finish first; politeness, integrity, chivalry, courtesy… all anachronisms, antiques of a fictionalized society we’re led to believe existed in some previous generation before we were alive. But it was just like it is today as it was yesterday: Nothing changes but the names and our access to the information. If you think about it too much, the toiling through the days, months and years, justifying the heartaches and hustle in spite of the happy moments and cherished rewards, it can be down right depressing.

The moment we are born, they say, we begin to die. Our time here is fleeting, only for a brief moment are we on this earth to make an impact, change its face for the betterment of those to follow. We live so that our children can live. But why? What for? Where will it lead, and when will it end?

It’s the human condition, I’m told, to survive and persevere through life’s many, many obstacles on our way to that mysterious fruitful reward. We don’t know what it is, but we have been taught since early childhood that it will be good to those that have earned it.

That is why life is hard.

But really? Is it? If you look around at your life, what you have, what you could have had and what you may get sometime, is it that tough? Did you have to kill your dinner today? Was there any part of your morning where you thought you might die? Was there a physical struggle for survival in the elevator to your office? Did you get a flat tire, the fax machine quit working, the button on your favorite jacket rip, or are you a little under the weather? Does that make life hard?

Have you ever really taken a close look at your life, at the one thing beyond it all, the root of your life? If you do, you might see something I just discovered.

I consider myself lucky.

Damn lucky, really… and every day I take that stroke of luck for granted. My one great instance of luck, and that is all I can call it, pure luck, is the one greatest thing that may ever happen in my life, something that has laid the foundation for my entire existence on this planet and maybe beyond.

And I had nothing to do with it. I’m lucky that I was born me.

In the face of a shrinking planet, where I can witness the lifestyles of people across the globe on a whim via the Internet, we are constantly barraged with information about the world around us. News stories of wars, famines, atrocities, poverty, heart-breaking accounts of suffering and indignities any previous generation before us could never be able to witness the way we have to flood us each and every day. The news tells us about a school getting bombed in the Gaza Strip. YouTube shows us the first account video of refugee camps in Africa. Flickr gives us personal pictures of the slums of Rio. You can’t get away from it.

Look around too hard and all you see is hate and crime and drama, life unfolding before our eyes in the most horrible of ways. It can be psychologically scarring to be objected to these things time and time again. What good is knowing about the man in LaHabra tonight who killed his entire family because he lost his job? Does that make me a better person?

I decided to go to bed early tonight, which is never a good idea because I always lay there for a couple of hours thinking too much about everything… if that’s possible. And it dawned on me like a truly epiphanical moment, where a staff of light broke through the ceiling and filled the room with clarity: I take my own life for granted… literally; I’ve ignored the hidden fortunes my life has given me, basically everything about me for the last 35 years. And here I am, lucky as can be, not appreciating who I am, what I am, where I am and what brought me here.

I could have, very easily, been somebody else, somebody completely different than who I am.

In the broadest of strokes, I’m lucky for being born. I’m lucky to be alive. I could have ended up in a bio-waste bag at an abortion clinic. I could have died from a rare disease before emerging from the womb. I could have had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck and choked to death before taking my first breath. My mother could have smoked, drank, did drugs or got into an accident while she was pregnant. Any number of things could have happened and do happen every day to mothers and babies all over the world.

I’m lucky to have been born in the United States. Say what you will about it, it is still one of the greatest nations on earth, the land of opportunity and the candle holder to democracy and freedom. It is a world superpower that leads in industry, economy (well, now not so much) and prosperity. What are the chances I would have been born anywhere else? There are almost seven billion people on this planet, but only 300 million of them live in this country. The odds that I could have even been born here are small, only about 1 in 50, but here I am.

I’m lucky that I was born to caring parents. I could have ended up in foster care. I could have been sold on the black market in India. I could have been dumped in the toilet of a high school locker room (we’ve all heard the stories). I could have been abandoned on the steps of a church. Or, like a lot of people, I could have been born into a family that despised each other and everything else…what damage does an environment like that do to an impressionable mind?

I’m lucky I was born in California. This isn’t to be disparaging to anyone born anywhere else in the country, but I say this because I could have been born in Appalachia in the 1850s. I could have been born in a covered wagon in the 1870s. I could have been born in the slums of Detroit in the 1960s. Instead, I was born in the Land of Sunshine, in the state that most people envy during the winter and that’s lots of people strive to visit or to live. I can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon (if I did either of those things). The end result of Manifest Destiny, we introduced hundreds of items into mainstream culture, from the birth of the movie industry to the mainstay of many agricultural products that can only be found in California. If the United States is the land of opportunity, then California is the state of opportunity.

I’m lucky that I had a good childhood. Any number of things could have happened to me in the first years of my life. I received a good education. I played sports, learned to swim, had grandparents, and joined the Boy Scouts. I went to college. My home life was excellent. I was nurtured, encouraged, praised, taught, formed and shaped into a person of value to this society. I had friends growing up. I am mentally stable, normal, almost typical.

I’m lucky that was born in the 20th Century. Imaging living in the Colonial times. Imagine threshing wheat or having to read by candle light. Imagine working in a textile factory at the age of eight or in a coal mine, or having to give up grade school because you’re needed on the farm. Imagine being born in a gold mining camp, without medicine or modern science. Two years ago, Natalie contracted Scarlet Fever… a hundred years ago, it would have killed her.

All of these things add up to me, and not only am I lucky that they did, but I’m grateful too. Does that make me an elitist or overly arrogant that I wouldn’t have had a good life if I were born in a Bosnian concentration camp or to alcoholic parents in the Ukraine? What would life be like for me if I were born a Somalian in the slums of Mogadishu, or if I was the unwanted bastard child of a teenage prostitute in Thailand? I didn’t live an uneducated life in the backwoods of 1920s Tennessee, and I wasn’t subjected to the constant life and death struggles most kids face in third world countries. Of course, it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have grown up to be a happy productive person… I just wouldn’t have been the me you all know.

I am me.

The seemingly insurmountable odds were stacked against me becoming me, but here I am, an American in the 21st Century with all the opportunities and benefits that comes with it. I have a beautiful wife, two great kids, a house, cars, a good paying job (so far), friends and family. We’re not living during a crushing depression (yet) or a demobilizing war. No armies are poised to attack our cities and I don’t fear for my life when I leave my front door. I enjoy order, civilization, a society that, overall, respects each other and our individual goals and ambitions.

However, with my epiphany comes the sorrow I feel for all those people around me that not only take their lives for granted, but for the ones that waste them.

Feel lucky that you are you. You might not know how good you have it.

1 comment:

Tris Mast said...

Please, please, don't say "elitist."

And you really do need to go skiing.


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