Sometimes, life just doesn’t seem equitable, reasonable, or – dare I say it? – fair. Think of discrimination, ableism, injustice for starters. For the most part, it seems clear that in those instances there is a right and a wrong, a hero and a villain. But what if – as in much of life – there is no hero or villain? What if life seems to go swimmingly for someone you know and love, someone you wish the best for… someone who gets the one thing you’ve fought for, prayed for, dreamed of for so long? And what if you are that friend, relative or loved one, who knows someone who has struggled so much with something that seems to have come to you so easily?
I’ve been there. I’ve been on both ends of this theoretical table, and I can’t say I have any easy answers. A year ago I got myself a shiny new job, with all of the hope that entails, and I felt intensely guilty about having success after a sudden layoff, while many others – with and without disabilities, with a wide variety of skills – were struggling just to get interviews. Now that I’ve been back on the employment journey for several months, I’ve seen many others find the success I’ve previously enjoyed, even while I am struggling and pushing against discrimination disguised as compliments on how inspirational I am. It is their time to shine – it truly is – but while I wish them nothing but happiness, their success makes me both thrilled and miserable simultaneously.
But it’s not only about employment. What about being the “token single” in a huge group full of couples? Or the only (involuntarily) childless couple in your church congregation? Attending or planning a wedding after a messy breakup or the death of a partner is both joyous and heartbreaking…
And those who are rejoicing are often struggling to reconcile their obvious (and reasonable) joy with the thought they can’t laugh as loudly or smile as broadly because they know and love someone who feels like that laughter and those smiles are shots to the heart.
So what do we do? We can’t walk around dressed in metaphorical black all the time – life is full of joy and sorrow, and we can’t deny the existance of either. We all love, hurt, succeed and fail – and those who truly care about us understand that our tears of joy at their celebration mingle with those of frustration or (occasionally) despair that we’re still hoping or fighting or praying for that same thing for ourselves. No true friend or loved one wants to take away the joy and success of another. And when we have that success, we feel guilty in a way – that we can’t sprinkle magic dust on those we love and grant them in equal portion the joy we’ve found through love, birth, employment, celebration.
But, please, I beg you, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, don’t deny your joy, your pain, your frustration, your love. Those who are struggling, wish all the success and happiness in the world to those of whom you are envious; if they’ve done nothing hurtful or illegal or unethical, they deserve that happiness. And for those who are thrilled beyond words at your new job, expected baby, celebration of love… gently share that joy with us who are currently not as fortunate. In your sensitivity to those fragile feelings of hopelessness and despair, you both acknowledge your happiness (there’s no need to hide it) and the complex emotions of support and envy of those who currently can’t celebrate such success for themselves. And yet… don’t hide it! Please, don’t hide it! Your happiness, success, and joy tells those of us fighting in the trenches – in moments of weakness and darkness and pain – that one day, it will be us, and you’ll be right there cheering us on and lifting us up and holding our hands as we welcome our own joy and success into our lives.