Thursday, August 01, 2013

"It's not fair" - no, it's called life

Lately I've heard this phrase a couple of times (as have I thought it). "It's not fair". Like many of the fairy tales* I read when I grew up, as in "the person was doing it all well and therefore got rewarded with marrying the princess and lived happily ever after". Or a random Disney story* of the more gruesome fairy tales I read (if you have time and interest, look into 'The little Mermaid' and 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' if you want more back story that the originals weren't all that cute, nor did they end well.)

Anyway, I've heard many a post-doc telling me about their post-doc experience and ending with "they worked hard and pulled lots of hours but still someone else won the affection of the PI and they weren't rewarded with the paper/TTposition/what have you" and 'it wasn't fair'. I'm trying so hard not to fall into the pit of cynicism and replying "of course it isn't fair, it's post-docing".

And then there are the examples of my friends and others with their relationships and their failure (of the relationship) and their new ones that didn't turn out they way they've hoped... "It isn't fair, I met them after the divorce and we talked about x,y and z but now they've changed their mind and we don't have a future together". And they look at me like I would have something good to say about it all.

The truth to this is that I don't buy into the saying that "whatever happens to you it's either how you let it define you, how it hurts you and how you make it afterwards". I think that it is a pretty simplistic view of life and not true. The same way I don't buy into the idea that "some people only get bad things". Even though it would be easy to say that to certain people, 'things' that happen never seem to grow into 'catastrophies' to these people but rather into opportunities and they never see the really bad outcomes.

For most of us though, I think it is partly a matter of "missing the good parts of life and therefore making it all about the bad parts" (i.e. focusing on the failure/bad parts). Mind you, I am writing this as someone who has a pretty splotchy family history where people aren't 'happy' and end up in 'happily ever after land'. Nor have I had the most sunshiny story of life - according to comparison to certain people - nor myself on certain days, but to me in general it's still pretty good. (Compared to the rest of the world - WHO - looking at health, income, crime and such, I'm doing pretty swell.)

I guess what I am trying to say in this fairly rambling blog post is that most likely life doesn't turn out the way your 10year-self thinks it would (if it did - congrats to you! I really mean it, nothing ironic about it) but that doesn't mean "it" isn't fair, nor that it a complete shambles. It mainly means that we as people can't  expect that life turns out they way we thought it would and that it isn't as easy as we perceived it might be but still, the idea to talk about "it's not fair" means that you might be stuck in a thought process that isn't really reality. (I know, I'm trying to convince myself as much as anyone here.)

Reality is shambles, it's opportunity, it's reacting, it's taking chances, it's giving up things you didn't know at the time you cared about or not, but most of all - it's about enjoying those moments of tranquility and happiness that you do have when it feels like the stairs align and all is good. Because none of it is a guarantee that it will last a longer time. And when other times happens, it's not because you necessarily did something wrong, but "it' happens, it's life" (i.e. sickness like cancer or accidental death or what have you).

It's like a old woman I sat with in the hospice care - she said to me when she had her lucid moments before she died -  "life is all those moments of happiness when you didn't have to face the real stuff falling down on you and making it hard. The joy of those moments are the ones I dwell on, not the bad moments when things happened to me or the people I loved, since that is what happens. That is life and the only things that matters in the end is the happy times, the people who love you, and what/how you acted in those times of crisis when things were on the line" It's hard for me to write it with the importance and the impetus she said it with, being over 80 years old and having lived a life fully and trying to pass it on to me.

Then again, I still remember the man I met as a 15 year old at a bus stop. He told me he was contemplating suicide since his wife of more than 50 years had died a few weeks earlier. He was guilt ridden about the fact that he had asked her to make an abortion in the 1950ies when they were not married, subsequently she couldn't have children (i.e. they couldn't have children) and now all their friends were dead too since he was old and they had died before him and there was no one left with him (since they have had no children). I mumbled something about "the Lord moves in mysterious ways" since I had no other answer. I wanted to tell him - at the time as a teen - that suicide wasn't the answer. Now? I don't know what I'd say since he seemed pretty cohesive when I think about it, and life isn't easy.

In the end of this, by no means great nor perfect blog post, is that "it's not fair" is a fairly** useless phrase to use since "of course it's not fair, nothing is 'fair', but you have to see the good things in what you get and live with those moments" since in the end, those good moments are the times you should remember and cherish. We just try to do the best of what we're dealt with and for many that is a pretty  good deal. I guess I might be subjective, gone through a few of those "less than perfect instances" but I really believe - I have to believe - that life in general is not fair, but that doesn't mean it can't be good in places where we don't always look for the happy.

When I'm rereading this post I wonder if I should delete it since it shines with so much hope and other fringe stuff that it might not be worth reading? I'll leave it for a while since it is pretty honest if nothing else and maybe someone will feel that I am touching on something worth mentioning.

*both these references could be exchanged to "Job" since "it wasn't fair either" what God did to him.... if you want more of a biblical reference. Or "Abraham" if you go for the 'you need to sacrifice your child to make it right' in order to reap the benefits... 'fair' seems like a pretty far fetched deal at that time. Tig Notaro comes to mind when you talk about that, her stand up section on "God never gives you more than you can handle" gig last summer, which is pretty funny even though it's dealing with very awful stuff happening at the same time.

**fairly makes me think of fairy tales so "pretty" would maybe been a better word in context