I ran across a quote recently that rings so true for me: Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.
I've battled self-esteem issues my entire life. I've often looked at other people and their lives and wished they were mine. This was especially true at the all-girl high school I attended, where it was so easy to compare myself to everyone else and fall short every time.
Even now, as an adult, I see a woman who seems to own effortless beauty and endless confidence, and I want that for myself. I see children who are darling and well-behaved and kind, and I wonder why my boys aren't. I see a family that is whole, happy, and complete, and I burn with jealousy that mine is broken and fragmented.
Some days it seems as if everyone else is better-off than me, and I wonder what it would be like to change places, if just for that day.
And then, I hear stories and I learn things that make me take pause and re-evaluate those thoughts.
One such story came to both Hubby and me late the other night. We each received separate e-mails from a couple we know from Hubby's time in dental school and residency. J&A can be described as the perfect couple; soul mates if that concept actually exists. They dated off and on in college, only to go their separate ways post-graduation. Years later, after the break-up of J's marriage, he found A again, only to rekindle their college spark. Their wedding was a storybook affair, taking place on one of Napa Valley's most beautiful vineyards. In the ten years they have been together, they have traveled all over the world. And although they chose to remain childless, every Christmas they would remember their friends' children with hand-picked, perfect gifts. This past summer, they welcomed a darling baby boy into their family, and their charmed life became truly picture-perfect.
Until recently when they learned that J has a brain tumor.
Obviously, having been through it ourselves, I would never wish this on anyone else. It's terrible news, and I would never change places with them.
So why is it that I would change places with someone else?
Tragedy is, unfortunately, inevitable. Accidents happen, diseases are incurable, and death is, undeniably, imminent for all of us. Something bad happens to all of us at one time or another in our lives. The people who write about 'life being so wonderful' on Facebook are probably just having a good day.
Or nothing bad has really happened to them... yet.
Or they are just fooling themselves...and everyone else.
We can't really know what someone else's life is actually like when we look at them from afar. Some people make it point to paint a pleasant image. I should know - I think I have perfected that. I've had people tell me, "Kathy, you always look so put together." or "You are so calm with your boys. I'm not sure I could be like that." Or, what I heard all the time when Joey was sick, "You are handling this with such grace and strength."
What other choice did I have?
I've learned from first hand experience that people don't like to be around someone who is always angry, sad or depressed. It makes us uncomfortable when a person is always crying or yelling at their kids.
So, we put on a happy face and present an image that we have it all under control.
My mother has always said, "Never be jealous of someone else because I can guarantee you that they have something in their lives that you would not want to contend with.
Like an addiction or an eating disorder.
Like infertility or an abortion from their past.
Like an unfaithful spouse or one who is suffering from a debilitating disease.
Like sole care of an aging parent or a special needs child.
Or maybe they lost their spouse or child or best friend or parent much earlier than they should have.
Or perhaps they are simply lonely.
Some people wear their feelings on their sleeves, bitch to their girlfriends - or perfect strangers - about it all. Some people send it out to cyberspace by blogging about it.
And some just hold it all inside a pretty package, hoping no one will see what's really going on. Hoping they won't be judged because that would add to the hurt they already feel.
Last night, Hubby and I heard that J's surgery went well, that the tumor is low-grade and treatable. But I still wouldn't trade lives with him and A. I wouldn't want that for Hubby, and he wouldn't want that for me.
I think we can all look at a part of another person's life and feel a twinge of jealousy. But while we are envying someone else, another person may be envying us.
Being put together or being calm, and strength and grace aside, I seriously doubt anyone would want to trade places with me if it meant they would have to lose a child. So I won't wish to be you, if you won't wish to be me.
After all, I'm already taken.