It’s so, so easy to take things for granted when the going is good. I have a hunch that’s what keeps us going, us humans. There’s something deep in our DNA that wants us to wear blinders, wants us to chug along believing that since we’re not sick, not in pain, not desperately sad, not running for our lives, everyone else in the world is fine, too.
That makes sense, I guess. If we dwelled on that too much, we’d never get anything done. We’d die of worry and guilt.
(Side note: it may be part of our DNA, but it’s not innate. It’s something we learn as adults: worry about what’s in front of you, worry about the things you can change. Six-year-olds terrified of atomic bombs or bad guys in the night haven’t perfected this skill.)
So, it’s rare when everything’s going fine — so fine that you can’t imagine a time when things would ever not be fine — that you stop and think: “Now. Right now. I’m very lucky right now. I’m more fortunate than many people on this planet. Possibly most of them”
It happened to me this week, driving home after a long day of work and errands. For some reason — I still don’t know why — I took stock of my life. And I realized how very lucky I am to have a job and a husband and a boyfriend and loving hounds and loving friends. And it’s all because of an accident of birth: American, late 20th century, middle class, male, white.
There are billions of people on this planet, and this is where I sit: on an overpriced sofa drinking coffee that I bought in bulk at Costco. I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that I am not other things. I’m thankful that:
1. I am not a journalist being held by Islamic radicals and threatened with beheading.
2. I am not the family of a journalist being held by Islamic radicals, pleading for his release.
3. I am not suffering from Ebola or some other grotesque, B-movie nightmare of a disease in a country ill-equipped to handle it.
4. I am not living in fear of Ebola in a town that puts its dead outside every night, where some residents are so terrified of contracting it themselves, they can’t summon up the emotion to mourn the loss of their mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, son, daughter.
5. I am not the guy who takes a side-job to make ends meet and in turn, meets his end far, far too early.
6. I am not my adoptive mother, living alone, never happy, never fulfilled, always slightly angry at the world.
7. I am not the son of abusive, religious zealots who would’ve seriously considered stoning me when I told them I’m gay.
8. I am not a gay man living in a country where homosexuality is illegal, faced with the threat of blackmail, jail, and worse.
9. I am not the guy who wanders up and down the sidewalks of my neighborhood on crutches with one leg half-gone, begging for money.
10. I am not overworked, underpaid, or even mildly nauseated at the moment.
In short, I’m not living in any of those headlines, front page or back page. I live quietly, securely, in a house with walls, windows, a floor, and ceilings, most of which don’t leak in a rainstorm. I have a key to my own front door.
But all that could change. Disaster could upend everything. It happened nine years ago, when Katrina blew through town. It happened 18 years ago, when three friends were killed in a random act of violence that still shakes me now and then: the tremors are lower and slower now, but they come. It will probably happen again.
There but for the grace of whatever deity or philosophical concept you prefer go I. And you, person with internet access. Enjoy it while it lasts.
And the worst part of it is, all I can think of while writing this is the theme song to Facts of Life: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have the facts of life.”
Fucking hell. Sitcom wisdom.