Recent experiences have led me to ponder the concept of gratitude…
I don’t share my burdens easily. When I’m feeling low, I may vent to my mother, or my husband… occasionally I may share it with a friend (really only two people, you know who you are…) but generally speaking, nobody knows about it. That doesn’t mean that people can’t tell when I’m unhappy; I just don’t tend to share my thoughts and fears on that level.
You see, I have been burned in the past for trusting people who were undeserving of my trust. We all have that friend; the one who takes our doubts and fears and uses them as weapons against us in arguments.
Plus, I have a philosophy; EVERYONE is as tired, confused, stressed and afraid as I am. There is no manual for ‘being human’, so I have to figure that I’m not the only one who hasn’t quite got it all figured out yet.
Because of this philosophy, when someone shows me kindness or generosity, when someone lets me cry on their shoulder, when someone helps me shoulder my burden, I am incredibly grateful as I have no reason to believe that their own burden is any lighter than mine.
I don’t expect that kind of support – well okay, I do expect it from my mother and from my husband – but not from anyone else. Also, my trust is a privilege, which I don’t bestow lightly.
Life is what you expect it to be
Still, not everyone functions this way. I can’t help but feel like there are people in this world who craft their reality based on their expectations. And they expect A LOT out of those around them. They sail through life, expecting things to go their way, and the universe conspires to make it so.
To give a simple analogy; a friend who says “I can’t wait to see what you got me for my birthday!” is pretty much guaranteed a great present from me – because I can’t bring myself to disappoint them. I will go out and buy something awesome (within my means) even if I hadn’t been planning on buying anything at all. If I, however, say “I hope you find the time to get me something… it doesn’t have to be anything big…” I will probably end up getting a pair of socks. With a few exceptions, I haven’t really had a birthday present from anyone other than my sister and my hubby in years. This year, some of his friends bought me flowers. I’d never had so many flowers in one day. It was awesome and I am grateful. I just don’t EXPECT much, so even those who get the best of me don’t necessarily feel the need to return the favour.
Some of us are consumers, Others are garbage collectors…
So why does it seem that there are people in this world who can blithely stroll into a room (real or virtual) and dump all their hopes, dreams and fears on everyone else? How do people seem to be able to do this and get away with it? I call these lucky people the ‘consumers’. They use, satisfy their needs and discard what they have no desire to keep.
I, on the other hand, clearly belong to some strange caste of humanity that is responsible for picking up other peoples’ rubbish, sorting through it, trying to make sense of it and making sure that it doesn’t hang around to leave a lingering smell which might offend the person who discarded it.
Is it selfish of me that sometimes I just don’t feel like I can take any more? Is it wrong to feel like I don’t have anything more to give?
Why isn’t it okay that sometimes, I just want to be left alone? These questions keep me up at night.
Check the account balance
I think about banks; about the fact that each customer has a different account balance. Behind me in the queue at the bank at any given point in time could be a man who has twice my savings, and another who has a negative balance. Let’s call the wealthy one ‘A’ and the one who’s in debt ‘B’. Now let’s say they both invited me to dinner. And I went (don’t worry, my hubby knows that this is just an analogy). We went to the same restaurant and I ordered the same thing on each date. I think it’s safe to say that, based on a cursory analysis, it cost more for ‘B’ to take me out to dinner than it did for ‘A’. That’s not just because ‘A’ has more money. It’s because ‘B’ is exposing himself to greater stress, risk and uncertainty by pushing himself even further into the overdraft zone, just to take me to dinner. Did I have more fun with ‘B’? Not necessarily. Did dinner taste better? Nope.
Are things really this simple? Absolutely not. Maybe ‘A’ has a young daughter in desperate need for expensive, life-saving surgery which, even with his hefty account balance, he cannot afford – while ‘B’ lives with his parents and doesn’t have a care in the world.
My point is that what something costs is about more than just its price… more than just dollars and cents.
The real cost is based on the available resources, be they financial or psychological.
When I spend hours cooking for A, listening to B’s plans for the future, doing C’s dishes, giving relationship advice to D, teaching E and F how to manage their finances or buying presents for G… I feel like each act is a small withdrawal from my emotional bank.
Don’t get me wrong, when I give of myself it’s because I find value in the human exchange. I do it out of love. I do it because A,B,C,D,E,F and G all mean something special to me. But I’m a garbage collector, not a consumer… which is probably the reason why, when I try to share my own plans, insecurities and fears, I am told to ‘suck it up’ because ‘that’s life’.
I don’t just want to talk about expectations though. It’s not about gifts either; it’s about gratitude.
Someone in your life feels the way I do. I guarantee that. They may not talk about it, but every day their burden seems to get a tiny bit heavier. It might be your mother, your spouse, your best friend…. maybe it’s you. I would like to appeal to you, reader, to bear that in mind. This person probably doesn’t act like they expect a lot from you. There are some small things you can do for them, though. When they offer you half of their sandwich, don’t complain that it’s soggy. If they take you into their home, don’t fret about how lumpy the mattress is. If you are invited to their wedding, don’t spend that day criticising the dress, the decor, the caterer, the music… If they take you to dinner, don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu.
All this may seem obvious, but trust me; there are folks out there who need to hear this message. When someone GIVES to you, be grateful. Whether it be a material gift or a gift of time, patience or an open mind. Don’t complain, don’t belittle, don’t make assumptions of their generosity and never, NEVER forget that this is a finite resource. Some things don’t necessarily have a dollar value, but they come at a physical, emotional and psychological cost. However small the gift you’ve been given, remember that you have no idea what it might have cost the person who gave it to you.