Monday, April 28, 2008

Some "whine" with that cheese?

Monday was not the best of days for me. The weather was miserable. I picked up a bad head cold. I blew my diet totally while away for the weekend. My wide-open-prairie of a yard, which is a ball-buster in the best of times, has grown out of control through a combination of inclement weather and my recent absence from home. And, on top of that, my dog tried to eat one of my best friends (see item below). Other than that, a pretty OK day. But I, being the typical American, was feeling all sorry for myself, at least until someone caught my eye as I was moping my way out of the Giant Eagle. It was a guy, younger than I, who is spending his life in a wheelchair. Instant attitude adjustment for me. We all are guilty sometimes of turning our molehill problems into mountains and failing to realize that many people are a lot worse off than we are. We need to remember that.


Blogger PRIguy said...

My daughter was born with a rare blood disorder. She didn't make one of a certain variety of T-antibodies that are critical to warding off infection. This resulted in more than 18 months of virulent fevers, mysterious infections and of course, multiple hospitalizations. She had so many spinal taps and IVs that I lost count. Often, difficult times can bring about something positive. I learned two very valuable lessons during that difficult time, and I am a better man for it.

One night, she got yet another fever of 104 or 105 and we went to the emergency room. This had gotten to be routine for us. High fever, ER trip, admission to hospital, spinal tap, IV antibiotics, 2 to 7-day hospital stay. This night, while waiting for her to come back from yet another spinal tap, my then-wife and I went to the parents' lounge on the pediatric floor. Inside, a woman was balled up in the fetal position on a couch, crying quietly.

We sat down, trying not to disturb her. Eventually she talked to us. Her baby, just a few weeks old, had been diagnosed with spinal meningitis. With this disease, the first 24 hours are critical, and she was told that there was an 80% chance that her child would die that night. Now, we had been through this ritual many times. While it always was very difficult on us, we knew that our daughter would live through the night. So, despite the financial strain we were under, along with the terrible emotional toll a constantly ill child can exact, there was no question that this woman was going through more that night than we had in the entire time our daughter was alive.

Also, during those hospital stays, we got to know a young boy from Afghanistan who'd had both of his hands blown off in an explosion that killed his mother, who was standing next to him. He was eight years old. I confess to being somewhat of a racist at that time. This young kid was guilty of nothing more than living in the wrong village at the wrong time, and he lost his mother AND his hands because he lived in Afghanistan. It changed my opinion on race very quickly. I'll never know what he went through, but I know that his life is tougher than mine will ever be. And unfortunately, he'll never the profound and positive effect he had on my life.

April 29, 2008 at 12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew someone once who went to an Ivy League school, received a master's from a near-Ivy, and worked at one of the best-paying newspapers in the country - and yet her private blog consisted of nothing more than whining and petty complaints.

I seem to remember one entry where she carried on about how nothing was going right for her, everything was terrible, yada, yada, yada, and, dammit, she was going to try to get over her sorrows by going to get an expensive facial!

Sometimes I wanted to tell her that there are people living in junkyards in India (and Haiti, and many other countries) and that she should get a grip. Her "problems" were nothing compared to what other people were going through.

--Brad Hundt

April 29, 2008 at 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The old adage, "I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet" is true. But this is also true: Despite the best efforts of many to tell us that truth is black-and-white, all things are relative. Your frame of reference determines what circumstances cause you to complain. (I don't want to hear the argument that to bitch implies a lack of faith in the creator's master plan. I figure that the creator, or whatever you call him or her, knew you would bitch and isn't all that put out by it. But I do believe that the Big C provides us with incidents like Brant's as, to roll out an overused phrase, "a wakeup call.") Anyway ... back to frame of reference.

I vividly recall a baseball player saying, when he was negotiating a salary increase from $7 million to $15 million a season, "Hey ... I'm just lookin' out for my family." That logic also applies to a migrant worker looking to negotiate a raise form $6 an hour to $6.50 an hour, but somehow the baseball's players straight-faced explanation does not appeal to me. How much is enough?

More and more, we lack a valid frame of reference for what is or isn't troubling. I include myself in this group. I am what they used to call "educated." I am aware. Yet it took a trip to the Philippines when I was 45 years old to really open my eyes to how poor people in other countries live. There's something about seeing naked 4-year-olds playing in cement dust two yards away from a delapidated highway and less than a mile from the president's palace that drives home the reality of abject poverty better than any video or PowerPoint presentation ever can.

And this type of scene plays out every day somewhere -- in Africa, the Middle East ... and even in Pittsburgh and Washington County. What do we do about it? For many people, not much. Is this because we ignore the obvious? Many times, it is.

We are increasingly insulated -- from the poor, from the hungry, from the halt, the lame and the blind, from the realities of war. The disturbing part is that we often choose to be insulated. Certainly there is no dearth of media coverage of dire circumstances. Yet each successive generation is less interested in the plights of others and less informed of the past, whether from lack of effort by their elders to tell them about it or through sheer self-absorbtion.

I have no experience living abroad, but I have a very firm belief that Americans are more guilty of living in self-imposed ignorant bliss than are the citizens of most other countries. If I'm living in a mud hut in Afghanistan and have no way of hearing the latest news other than from the goatherd next door, I'm less likely than an American to be aware of the plights of others.

Until we divest ourselves of our "me-first" attitudes in all things and stop worrying about who pulled a muscle on "Dancing With Stars," nothing will get much better.

May 1, 2008 at 11:46 AM  

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