Wednesday, January 25, 2006

All Apologies

When I was younger and someone praised my achievements I would get horribly embarrassed. I would say, “Oh, I just got lucky.” Or I would make a joke about it. “Yeah, I am good at fooling people.” “They just haven’t figured out how much I don’t know yet.”

And then yesterday I came across a post that made me want to get very angry. (The post wasn’t directed at me or anyone in particular – it was an old post – it just found a mark) It started out well. I was agreeing with the author. And then it said people’s success in life is mostly just "plain dumb luck." That annoyed me. We are all unhappy with our own lives at some point or another. We all feel compassion (or most of us anyway) towards those who are less fortunate. But to denigrate the accomplishments of those who have persevered against odds and to reduce their success to a heaping dose of serendipity is unnecessary.

I took it personally. I related to all the people whose accomplishments the author so succinctly reduced to nothingness with that one sentence. I felt like writing a scathing reply. Then I thought better of it. Maybe I am not angry at the post so much as at myself. Compassion is a many edged sword. Maybe not for naturally saintly people but for flawed humans like me. It cuts you coming and going. I am caught between wanting my dues and feeling apologetic for my small success.

This morning I saw a garbage truck. Have you ever seen one? The front car is like the ones you see on cranes at construction sites but the back portion is a tubular shape with a flattened top. On top of the front car are two giant claws with pincers. In repose the claws stay tucked close to the sides of the body of the truck. In action, they swing up and around to the front. The pincers slide into two long slits on the sides of the trash collector, hoist it up, two doors on the top open up and the claws empty the contents of the dumpster into the gaping void inside by turning it upside down and shaking it a few times. Afterwards the dumpster is placed down on the sidewalk (or yard or wherever that particular dumpster happens to be), the pincers slide out and it is pushed back into its resting place.

I watch the garbage truck. The guy inside is wearing a fluorescent lime green jacket with white/off-white stripes. Regulation issue I would say. I can’t see his face. I wonder if he’s happy at his job. Does he have the time to be unhappy with a stranger’s perception on the internet? Or is his time taken up worrying about how to feed his family?

A few blocks down from the garbage truck I see another, with a big front car and a flatbed. I stop to let him make a turn and the guy waves a thank you. I wave back. Then I see a FedEx truck. A little later I see another big truck. The kind you see most commonly with the big rectangular box on its back. Nearing the mountain I see a coal truck. It’s black and grimy. I wonder if it really is black or if it’s the soot.

I have no parental boons or silver spoons to attribute my success to. I have suffered setbacks in my career because I didn’t want to compromise my integrity, I have suffered setbacks in life because I stood my ground. The fact that some people are driving trucks or waiting tables does not detract from my accomplishments. But the fact that I am proud of my accomplishments does not detract from their daily pain either.

My boyfriend and I broke up in June. It was over a long time ago. Or maybe it never was. All we did for three and a half years was drive each other crazy. Crazy with love, crazy with anger, pain, frustration. Six months later I still find myself fighting back tears for absolutely no reason in the middle of day or night. I don’t understand it. All of it. None of it.

Maybe that’s how it is. Life is as much a game of roulette as precision engineering. Some luck, some accident, some hard work. In the end, an Og Mandino quote says it best for me: “Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow's good luck.” After that ...

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