In recent months, I’ve learned the backstories of some of my new friends, stories that are both horrifying and heartbreaking. That these people are leading normal lives, or what seem to be normal lives, make their stories all the more shocking. And they make me realize, that despite everything I have gone through, I have lived a rather privileged life. At least so far as I know. (One of the stories I was told rivals my book More Deaths Than One for mind control, manipulation, and abuse, which would make anyone question themselves and what they think they know. But I tend to think I do know what I think I know.)
I never felt as if my life was especially blessed — there was too much trauma and poverty, depression and some sort of instability in almost all the characters of my youth. And yet, I grew up, enjoyed mostly good health (meaning that I wasn’t often tormented by terrible pain, trauma, or illness). I loved and was loved in return. I’m settling into what might be a rather benign old age, and even with my extremely limited income, I doubt I will go hungry. Although I’ve never been strong physically, I’ve been strong enough to do what I needed to do. And I’ve been strong enough mentally to get through what I needed to get through.
Those are my realities right now. My privileges. Not everyone has those same privileges. Some people have different blessings — wealth, beauty, acclaim, athletic ability, robust health, great happiness, a fulfilling career, a living — and loving — spouse, cherished offspring.
And some people seem to have very little going for them, often through no fault of their own. Abuse. Disfiguration. Disability. Unending pain. Troubles that seem to multiply. Acute loneliness.
Nothing I can do will ever make a difference to those lives. I can be kind to people I meet, of course, because who knows what pain and horror they are hiding behind smiles or stoic expressions or even scowls. But that’s about all. Being miserable won’t offset their misery. Bleeding for them won’t erase a single moment of suffering. Making allowances for life’s injustices or trying to shoulder another’s mental or physical burdens only goes so far — we each have to live the life we are given.
There’s no way ever to truly understand another person’s point of view, and people who expect that are being unrealistic. We can always only see life through our own eyes, and that’s not a privilege but a reality.
Actually, now that I think of it, my greatest blessing is to be able to turn, in retrospect, a rather messy and traumatic life into one of privilege and good fortune. A nice bit of legerdemain, that.
But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator