On the way home from an errand yesterday, I turned into a shopping center with a market that I rarely frequent. I was low on coffee — not a good look on me — and decided to pick up a pound of beans while I could. Making my way through unfamiliar aisles, I was quickly distracted… by a display of hummus on special.
I stopped. Next to me was a woman roughly my age, also pondering the hummus. We struck up a conversation.
In a matter of minutes — both of us in an unguarded emotional state — we shared bits of our past year and found points of commonality. She has been going through challenging times; I have been going through challenging times. She teared up; I teared up.
And then we hugged.
After I returned to my rented place (where I still don’t feel “at home”), I brewed myself a cup of Joe, I thought about this woman, and I was struck by how warm she seemed despite dealing with excruciating circumstances — the medical situation of a family member. The enormity of the issues she is facing makes my concerns pale.
But this isn’t about comparisons. It’s about realizations.
Sometimes, terrible things happen to wonderful people. And there’s nothing to be done. Sometimes, tough times are your past, your present, and your foreseeable future. And there’s nothing to be done. Sometimes, you can do everything within your power to “fix” a situation or at least to improve it, and it won’t be enough.
Sure, attitude helps. Support helps. Money helps.
But misfortune can befall anyone. It’s luck of the draw.
We know this — much as we convince ourselves there are mysterious “reasons” things happen; it’s how many of us cope — but we don’t always act as if we know this, or interact as if we do. In other words, approaching each other with compassion, and without making assumptions or judgments.
Throughout last night and into this morning, I replayed my conversation with the woman I met, her brief account of recent months, and my own reality of the past three years or so and the past 18 months in particular.
I also replayed a recent conversation I had with an acquaintance who made assumptions about my life after divorce. She is happily married, was unaware that divorce is governed by state law, and that the outcomes are widely divergent. Her assumption: If you are a wife and mother, you always receive half the assets, alimony, and child support — all entirely sufficient to manage.
Um, not quite. Any of you who have been through it know as much.
I thought of my financial struggles since divorce. I thought of the far-reaching consequences of initial court rulings and the inexperienced judge who made them. I thought of the less than “friendly” state law where I lived. I thought of the two layoffs and the medical issue that occurred during my extended divorcing process.
Luck of the draw.
My move a year ago?
A few unforeseeable events occurred — nothing tragic — but enough to trample my plans and leave me hanging for months, and months, and months. Trying this. Trying that. One step forward, two steps back.
All of it, draining energy and resources.
I’m putting the pieces together, slowly, as best I can. I see progress and hope to sustain it. I focus on that. I remain resolved to recognize where I can make better choices, new choices, and I am determined to learn from my mistakes and to look forward.
But I am also working on not blaming myself for events that are purely… you got it… luck of the draw.
Now, let’s talk about pop culture’s tendency toward “victim blaming” or, if you prefer, pointing a finger at a person who is dealing with a difficult situation. And often more than difficult — life-altering — as in loss of a spouse through death or divorce, a serious illness or medical situation (one’s own or in the family), loss of employment and loss of livelihood, or a combination of significant events.
We preach that the secret to success is due to our resolve, our positive attitude, our persistence. I believe in resolve, positive attitude, and persistence. I believe in personal responsibility. I believe in “try, try again.”
But luck matters. The luck of the draw is not something we control. How we deal with it? Sure. However, pointing fingers at someone who is hurting and has been unable to “fix” problems in his or her life, or “deal” the way you might judge they should is utterly unhelpful, ill-considered, and frequently counterproductive.
The blame game is bad news in any context. Equally so, and something we all need to watch out for when we’re worn down and out of sorts — playing the “victim” card.
No one likes a victim. More importantly, living the victim mentality can be crippling. It rarely helps move us closer to our goals.
Still, let’s be real. Some win the genetic lottery — with health, talents, and looks that open doors. Some win the “geographic” lottery — the place of their birth offers inherent benefits. Some win the financial lottery — a matter of their parents’ financial wherewithal, and the ability to use it to their advantage.
We have only to think of various populations much in U.S. news these days for examples of birthright and opportunities, or lack thereof.
Certainly, challenges can spur us to tremendous accomplishments. For example, I am immeasurably glad not to have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I’ve learned the habits and value of hard work, and the sweetness of achievement. But let’s not pretend that we all start from a level playing field. We do not. Skin color, gender, geography, family — these are only a few of the factors that put some of us at an advantage, or a disadvantage.
Luck of the draw.
Again, I cannot help but think of the woman I just met. She lives nearby (how fantastic!), she has a sparkle in her eye even under duress (delightful!), and who knows?
No one “deserves” what she’s going through, and I know I cannot possibly understand it. But I think, maybe, I can be there for her in some small way. And in so doing, feel good about the very simple, very human, absolutely essential act of connecting. Connecting is always a step forward, in my book.
So might we act in affirming ways to stay open to serendipity? To take calculated risks to ameliorate a situation? To reach out and be kind no matter what? I believe the answer is yes.
Oh… and I bought the hummus — though a different brand than my usual. It was a great price and it’s delicious. Luck of the draw?
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