One of the philosophies I took from my family is that life would not be worthwhile if it were not for the differences among us. It would be boring for everyone to hold the same beliefs, no matter how “right” we may think our own are. We might never learn, if we never had to open our minds.
Likewise, joy is only enhanced by sorrow. If we have not known want, or sadness, then having, and happiness are not fully defined.
When Loretta sings, “why is that old drunk still livin’, when a daddy like mine is dyin’?” – I KNOW that question. I have asked it, in anger and in sadness. And I know her answer. It is as much a part of my family as the red clay or steep hills where my mama was born and grew up, or the white house on the hill where my daddy did.
The elegiac beauty of her song does not make it easier. It does not make the answer more acceptable. And yet. It states the simple facts.
In my family, that fact was summed up thus: life is not fair.
Taking succor, even rapture, from the relativity of joy and sorrow, of cold and warm, of frustration and fulfillment … is one thing.
Taking that on, and looking at the little baby she sings of – twisted – or the child who is blind … remains incomprehensible.
We learn from the difficulties in our own lives, and we even learn from those around us who suffer.
Yet it can feel so dirty. So awfully wrong. To watch someone face death, with more grace than you have ever seen, and to understand that death teases, plays, and delays. That it will not COME, even long after the point where this person has begun to beg for it.
I can accept that my dad only got sixty-five years, when people who seem to me not even to care about their lives – or who are just selfish – get to live on and on and on.
It is harder to accept the cruelty that is hardship suffered with no relief, or suffered by one who cannot comprehend their agony.
My elder niece, when she was only three or four, once said, “I think it would be better if everyone could be a LITTLE sick, instead of one person being VERY sick.” She said this when my dad was dying.
She’s no damned fool, my elder niece. Never was. Not even at three or four.
And the heartbreak is this: life can’t be had on egalitarian terms.
Life is not fair.
And, as beautiful as that can be, as bittersweet and gorgeous as some of our moments of pain can be …
… it hurts. It sucks.
And it STILL beats the alternative. As bad and as poorly designed and even as stupid as it is. It’s still the best thing going.