Friday, February 03, 2012

Bearing Burdens

Where did we ever get the idea (and we all seem to have it somewhere in the dark recesses of our brain) that life should be easy? Every human being has a cross...or bear; some bear them far better than others. (I, unfortunately, fall into the "others"). No human life is free from problems, internal and external. The problem is that we are so very close to and familiar with our own, our perspective is warped.

The spark for this particular blog came from looking down at my tee-shirt while finishing my morning coffee-and-donut ritual and seeing not only an embarrassing mass of donut crumbs but large splotches of wetness comprised of drooled coffee and some mysterious liquid which pools, unnoticed, in the front of my mouth, caused by my having almost no physical control over my mouth. I credit all this to the the destruction of my salivary glands in the course of the radiation treatment which cured my tongue cancer, but at a considerable physical price. You would think that after eight years, I'd be used to it. But of course I am not.

The thing about crosses/burdens is that because we carry our own, they naturally seem larger, heavier, and more intimidating than those borne by others...especially those without obvious physical or emotional disabilities. They also, as noted, frequently block our perspective. Because we cannot see into another person's head or body, we have no idea what goes on in there--what may be walking the halls of the mind. Most of us can acknowledge that every human being has problems but, again, we are often incapable of fully understanding our own, let alone anyone else's.

I've always found it interesting that those who do not hesitate to wave their problems like semaphore flags and who are more than willing to describe them in excruciating detail are not really all that interested in hearing about yours. (Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary defines a bore as, "One who talks when you wish him to listen.")

I once knew a woman of whom no one who knew her would dare ask, "How are you?" To do so was to be treated to an endless litany of her physical, personal, and emotional woes. One of her greatest perennial complaints was that she had no friends. I don't think she really had the vaguest idea why. Yet in all the time I knew her, I never once heard her ask anyone how they were, or express the slightest interest in anyone or anything but herself.

I find it far more than significant that those with real, life-effecting, life-changing, and life-threatening physical challenges seldom if ever speak of them. My friend Bil struggled with bone cancer for several years until his death, yet never once complained or asked "Why me?" So I drool. So I feel there are far too many things of which I have been unfairly deprived as a result of my illness and the ravages of time. So what? The fact is that I am alive to complain when so very many others are not. I realize that I probably spend more time than I should--and certainly more time than the facts warrant--splashing around in the shallow end of the Pity Pool, but my awareness of the relative unimportance of my problems in relation to others' keeps me from going in too deeply or spending too much time there.

The very fact of being human presents obstacles to objectivity, including objectivity concerning ourselves. And while it's not easy, and takes practice and effort, we all need to step away from ourselves every now and again to see life and ourselves more clearly. Merely opening our eyes and observing those around us as individual human beings and not just part of that faceless, homogenous mass we too often think of simply as "them" is a good start. An eyes-open visit to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or large hospital complex like the Mayo Clinic will provide a wake-up call like no other.

We all have problems. Yes. They are very real to us. Yes. Some are very serious indeed, to the point of disrupting our lives. Yes. But the very bottom line is that we are alive and able to deal with them as best we can. Life can be difficult, but it is always better than the alternative.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

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