People often say, “You get what you deserve.” They don’t say it to me, necessarily; it’s just one of those meaningless phrases people use to try to find meaning — and fairness — when there is none.
A good example of the phrase meaning what it says is when a person picks on someone and that someone retaliates. As I have observed, though, bullies never see the retaliation in terms of their actions; they see the retaliation as the victim picking on them. So even though the bullies might deserve what they get, the bullies do not see it.
It’s the same with smokers who get lung cancer; people assume the smokers get what they deserve, but non-smokers also get lung cancer. My mother was one of those — never smoked, was never around smokers — though in a bizarre twist, her death certificate states that she was a lifelong smoker. She neither “deserved” to die of lung cancer nor to have a falsified death certificate, but those things happened. And speaking of death, did Jeff “deserve” to die at 63? Did my dad deserve to live to 97? Those are questions I have no answer for, nor does anyone.
What has made me think of this matter of deserving is something else, something more pleasant. My current living situation to be exact.
Here I am, living in a lovely house surrounded by a lovely yard with a fabulous garage and a delightful outdoor room (aka a gazebo). I do not know how I got to be so lucky, especially since it wasn’t that long ago when I was worrying about ending up on the streets. I had a small amount of savings that was rapidly being depleted, and I had no idea what I would do when it was gone. (I wouldn’t have lived “on the streets” as such — naively, I figured I would live in the national parks, going from one to another. If I had to be homeless, that seemed a more interesting way of living.)
Instead, following advice from a relative, I used that money to buy a house in the poorest county in Colorado, only a couple of hundred miles from some of the most expensive real estate in the country. It was the only place I could afford, but it turned out to be a true boon. The perfect place for me — not just the house and neighborhood, but the town itself.
Do I deserve my good fortune? I doubt it. (Did I deserve all the bad luck I’ve previously had? I doubt that, too.)
I also ended up with a lot of friends — some close friends, some close acquaintances, and some casual acquaintances. (This seems to be a good town for making friends — one such friend recently mentioned that they’d never had so many friends. Neither have I, to be honest.) I might deserve these friends because as far as I can tell, I am a good friend in return, and I do try to do things if not for these people, then for the community. (Such as my most recent donation of brownies for a local event.) But whether deserved or not, I do cherish each friendship.
But the rest of it? As far as I can see, my good fortune has little to do with my deserving it. Perhaps I deserve to have a pretty yard since I am putting a lot of effort into it, but so much of the beauty comes other from people’s labor as well as nature’s work. (Many of the flowers reseed themselves, so I reap the benefit without having any blisters and calluses to show for it.)
I wake up every morning amazed that I am living in such a house on a mini estate. And I am eternally grateful for my good luck, especially since deep down I truly doubt I did anything to “deserve” it. Though I am doing what I can to try to deserve what I’ve been given.
Still in the end, perhaps it’s not about deserving, but about making the best of whatever life hands us.
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.