My favorite book, 'The Great Gatsby', begins like this:
'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone', he told me, 'just remember not everyone has had the same advantages you've had'.
A similar sentiment, arriving by text message, in this new age of gadgetry and phone messaging, reaches me across the wires. It reminds me of truths we should all be accountable for this season, or any season, and also raises hard questions.
It can be hard, sometimes, to not look at others with an opinionated eye. We wonder could they be doing this or that better; could they be a better parent, a better employee, a better friend, could they be better dressed or less negative or more thin, could their house be cleaner or could they be more punctual. Do they deserve all the things they have? Do they appreciate them? Do we deserve them more?
The answer is never easy. And it never satisfies. Therefore the only realistic way to handle such a quandary is to never ask yourself these questions. All we can do is plug forward of our own accord, making our way as we go along. There are reasons for pride and envy being considered mortal sins.
This friend of mine tells me to be patient, to be kind, and never to forget that helping people less fortunate than myself is the best gift I can give - not just to them, but to me. He tells me this to keep me motivated, when he sees me falter. See, he's looking from an indeterminable position. Above or below, we just can't tell. He is my self-appointed compass, and he tells me that I'm too hard lately, I need to be softer.
I never judge, I never hold in contempt. And I always strive to do what I can for anybody who needs it. I come from a place of love, however cold it might be. I never forget who has helped me, what I've taken, borrowed, had to replace or repair. And that place in my soul is where I find my generosity.
But there are moments in generosity when too much can be given. You must hold yourself first, put yourself foremost. Giving until you have nothing left accomplishes little good. Nobody appreciates a martyr except the martyr. Allowing yourself to be taken advantage of has no real merit. Sure, you're selfless, but you're willingly latching onto parasites, trying to turn them into flowers.
I was told once, in my less self sufficient years, 'I'm going to help you by not helping you. You must learn to stand on your own two feet'.
Left to drown? It seemed that way at the time. It was the best lesson ever offered to me. How to feel sorry for ones self for exactly 2.5 seconds before realizing something better be done before I drown for real. That nobody will be my life jacket this time but me. Sink or swim. Prove your worth.
Those of us who have lived lives of privilage don't understand how hard it is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. How simple tasks such as paying bills, keeping a job and feeding yourself a decent meal every day can seem too much to handle. We jibe at them from behind our coffees and our manicures and our iPhones and wonder with disgust how they got to be so low. How they have no pride, no ethic, no personal accountability.
And yet it's always those same people who can't manage to keep a roof over their head, who always seem to outpour creativity and change, who seem to alter people's lives with a smile or a profound statement. It almost doesn't seem fair. We want to nurture these people, take their burden, so that they may continue to grace us with their charm.
After all, that's the one thing us materialistic lot can't buy. We can buy everything else.
It's hard to decide when helping someone is for their benefit, or for yours, so you can feel better about yourself. Call yourself a good friend. Would it help them more to walk away? Or is that just a selfish person's way of justifying? I've been on both sides of the fence, giver and receiver, and the answer is still no clearer to me now.
I know for sure that there are no real answers for why people do things in stupidity. Why we lose jobs, let go of people who love us, make decisions that will ruin our health or perhaps even kill us. Why we neglect those who love us, those who depend on us, like our animals or even our children. Why we stumble through life as if these thousands of years of evolution have taught us nothing.
Which they haven't.
All I can do is try not to judge, and keep my own head above water. That is all any of us can do.