My father walked to school 4 o’clock every morning with no shoes on, uphill, both ways, in 5 feet of snow and he was thankful. ~Bill Cosby
Driving home yesterday afternoon the radio DJ mentioned that his co-worker was sad because she had taken her family to the airport that morning. About two minutes later he aired a phone call. “You should tell her to be thankful she doesn’t work in retail today because that is worse than saying goodbye to family.” the caller said. I glanced at my radio. Really? What does one thing have to the other? And when is it that people have decided that everything is a contest to see whose life sucks the most? I understand encouraging people to keep things in perspective but, come on: This is turning into a national sport. We’ll call it “Hard Time One-Upping”. (HTOU for short)
I suppose I’ve always known people who have had it tougher, longer and handled it better than I have and aren’t shy about sharing their feelings. I know more people who lived on less money and raised their children better and have survived more hard times than I ever could. Just ask them. Wait. You don’t have to ask them because they are happy to tell you their stories anytime you mention that something is frustrating you. Or that you are having a hard time. Or a bad day. ”A bad day??” They will scoff. “Well one time when I was your age I woke to discover that not only had the zombies taken over the planet they had stolen our car but I was THANKFUL that I had my family with me. That was all I needed. We worked together to overthrow those zombies and the world is a better place because of it. You over sleeping, having a flat tire and being late to work is nothing compared to that day. I survived the zombie apocalypse.” Yeah. “Those” people. Know any? Many of their sentences start with, “Well let me tell you about the time I……”
Probably the worst of the HTOU-ers I know are women. Have you ever been around a bunch of older women who are talking with a lady who is pregnant for the first time? Holy moly! I never knew that giving birth could be that difficult and I’ve done it four times myself. It’s like a bunch of chickens trying to out-cluck each other. Don’t get me wrong. Labor and delivery is no fun but for pity sake! I often want to look at some of these women and ask, “So….you had more children after that because….???” I’ve also often wondered why in the world are we trying to scare the bejeebers out of this poor woman who is now pregnant and is going to go into labor one of these days? Do they bring old veterans to military boot camp and have them expound on how scary it is to be shot at during a war? Just shut up ladies. She’ll find out. HTOU women also have the worst husbands. The most demanding kids. The hardest house to clean. The most pain. They are sick more often than you. Their lives just stink and if you ever doubt it they’ll be happy to corner you for hours and let you know about it. Something in their lives is worse than yours. I will never forget when a few months after I had a miscarriage, a friend of mine also had one. I called her one day to see how she was doing. She was very guarded at the beginning of the conversation. After I talked to her for a while, without mentioning my own recent miscarriage, she said to me, “Thank you. I was afraid you were calling to tell me how you got through it just fine. I don’t understand why people do that. No offense but someone telling me that their grandmother died too doesn’t take away the pain of losing my own grandmother.” She was right and her words have stuck with me for years.
I imagine the introduction on social media has not helped the HTOU situation at all. I find myself sitting on my hands some days so that I will not comment on someone’s whiny post about having to get out of bed when they didn’t feel like it. There are a few people I just want to slap upside the head most of the time. Their lives are so difficult. Well it would seem to be according to what they are posting. To me it seems like they need to suck it up and grow up but to mention that in a comment would make me a HTOU – wouldn’t it?? I try really not to do that. I remember my mother telling me one time, “What is a mountain to someone else may not even be a foothill to you but that doesn’t make it less of a mountain to that person.” She’s right. Who am I to judge someone else’s mountain. Who am I to tell them my mountain has been bigger? There’s a balance in there somewhere. The delicate balance between encouraging someone that they will make it through a hard time and throwing our own experience in their face. We can help people keep things in perspective without skewing it with our own can’t we? Somehow the scale has gotten tilted too far to one side. Otherwise no one would feel the need to call a radio station to compare her irritation at working the day after Christmas to someone else’s sadness at saying goodbye to her family that day. The two have nothing to do with each other. We should probably learn to leave it that way.