“We’re all in the same game, just different levels. Dealing with the same hell, just different devils.” – Anon
I have an old ‘Bai’, who came to live with us around the time I was born. Often times she would fight with the other help, after which I’d hear her cry in her sleep.
“What happened?” I would ask. And after telling me all about the fight, she would proceed to tell me about her past, about family members who had passed away. In the beginning I’d get very upset listening to her, but after I’d heard her story for the five-hundred thousanth time, I was immune. “Why does she upset herself by rehashing her past?” I’d wonder. “Doesn’t she see how much my brother and I love her? Why doesn’t she think of that?”
She had friends in the building and at my school, other help to boss over and to gossip with, and a hectic routine. But on days she was sad, she’d pull out all her other tragedies and revel in her misfortune. I’d snuggle up beside her and remind her of all the ways she had it good, and wished she could see what I did. I was, of course, too young to contemplate the horrors of seeing a loved one pass away, or to understand that some sorrows never leave you, but I could see that nothing good comes out of listing all the ways life has beat you up.
Then there were times I’d find myself doing the same. I’d come home after a fight with a friend and would think of all the things that were wrong with my seven or ten-year old life. The tears flowed easily. At some point I’d get a grip and realise I was behaving just like Bai. That would stop the barrage of self-pity.
It is seductive, the desire to dwell in the past and give ourselves to grief, but with every tragedy there has to be an expiry date, after which there should be no more ruminating – for your own peace of mind.
When Bai first came to work with us, forty-five years ago, she had a daughter and grandchildren. Today, she is a great-grandmother. She’s going strong and lives with me out of choice. But still she cries. A few days ago she came to me, tears flowing down her generous cheeks, and asked me to abandon her in an ashram for she has no family of her own, despite the fact that her granddaughter lives with us as well, and her daughter visits once a year. Her eyesight is fine, her mind and hearing sharper than ever. She has her health, she has me to rush her to the doctor or to the ER every time she feels unwell, and she has my children, who bestow her with buckets of unconditional love, and she loves them in abundance in return.
“Come,” I said to her. “Lets go then. To the ashram.”
She cried that she wouldn’t be able to live without my children and they without her for she looks after them far better than I do, and they would starve should she go, so she simply had to stick it out. For their sake. She then quickly disappeared into her room to watch what Kanak was up to while I flipped open my computer and logged on to Facebook. This was when I learnt that Anthony Bourdain had taken his own life, and this was why, over a wine-infused lunch with friends the next day, the discussion moved towards deeper philosophical concepts that don’t seem to strike us when we’re sober.
“No one,” said a friend, “is truly happy, because there is always something that bothers us, that gives us stress, that takes us away from happiness. Look at Anthony Bourdain. Look at Kate Spade. Even they could not find happiness.”
“Not really,” I countered. “I’m happy. ”
Everyone at the table looked at me with disbelief,. “Surely not. There’s got to be something you want.” They turned to my husband for validation.
“Nah, she’s good,” he said. “She’s pretty positive that way.”
“Actually, I can think of a few things I’d want… But not having them doesn’t make me unhappy in any manner.”
“Aha,” they stopped me right there. “That means you’re not entirely happy.”
“If I think I’m happy, doesn’t that make me happy?”
“No. That makes you deluded!” they laughed.
Let me clarify. I’m not happy all the time. I don’t have a perfect life. I have ups and downs, but don’t dwell on the downs. I don’t rehash old, sad memories in my mind and cry over them. If demons rear their heads, I nudge them out. It’s something I learnt all those years ago, watching Bai.
The more you wallow in the wells of self pity, the deeper you will sink and the harder it will be to pull yourself out. It is important not to have a victim mentality, not to keep asking oneself ‘why me?’ over and over, because it isn’t just you. Learn to think in percentages. What do you think is the percent of people in the world who are going through what you are going through? 1%? That’s 75 million.
I returned home after lunch, and my children followed me into the bedroom with whoops of delight. They leaped onto my massive, soft bed and climbed over me. I turned to my husband and laughed, struggling to get out from beneath the girls.
“Isn’t mom awesome?” he asked my daughters.
“Yes!” they shrieked.
To my deluded mind, this was happiness, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.