For several people I know, 2009 has brought crises and challenges. When bad things happen, often it's a struggle to keep things in perspective. At least it's been that way for me. I've tried various ways to help me stay positive, or at least neutral. And sometimes, what helps me is a children's book.
Not just any book. I heard this book read aloud years ago when we still lived in Los Angeles. My kids went to a very small school and once a week the whole student body , grades K thru 6, would gather together sitting on the floor, and sing songs. And afterwards the director of the school would read a different book every week.
Something about this particular story struck a chord in my soul. It's based on a simple Yiddish tale, a fable about a man who complains to his rabbi about how difficult his life is. The rabbi makes the man's life more and more miserable until finally the man sees how lucky he was in the first place. Not rocket science, but the moral spoke so loudly to me that I drove right from school to the bookstore.
Oddly, I didn't put it with the kids' books. I'm not even sure if I read it to them. I put it away and forgot about it.
Years after that, I got diagnosed with cancer. I had a very complicated case, and didn't know of anyone whose case was as challenging as mine. My life seemed so complicated, and so overwhelming, and so unfair. I thought I was the unluckiest person in the world.
On my first day of chemo, another survivor came to visit me in the hospital where I was having my infusion. When I complained about how unlucky I felt, she told me what doctor told her each time he gave her medical updates on her condition: "It could be better, but it could be worse."
It sounded familiar.
I went home and found the book. It doesn't cure cancer, but it helped. Maybe it's the Jewish black humor or cynicism, but the principle strikes home. The same concept works for us as a country, as we face some of the most difficult problems in our history.
Maybe this helps explain why we find satisfaction in things like reality television, and even blogs---We need to hear other stories, to insert ourselves into the mass of humanity and see where we fit in; to know that wherever we fall on that spectrum, in the realm of human experience, usually it's true: maybe things could be better, but it could always be worse.