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Saturday, July 6, 2013

It's so unfair for you!


How many times have I heard somebody say this to me? Yes, it's true - but in the opposite way to what these people are talking about. 

The good life: a recent Gold Coast photo taken by my sister Jan
   Let's look at the facts as far as this is concerned.

   We'll start with the first 60 years of my life.

   For all that time, I had very little wrong with my health. I had full strength and vigour. I had a wide choice of the best of things to eat and drink.

   I have had privileges in my life that very few in the rest of the world have ever had and who would gladly swap the life that they are living with that I've had to this point.

   I've had love and wonderful company in my life. I've had security. I've had all the things that the majority of people in the world can only dream about. I have had a life of great comfort and freedom in comparison with that of most people in the world, even though by Australian standards it has been unremarkable in that respect.

   Some would even say that my childhood on a dairy farm was a good deal harder than most. In a way, it was, but I had a happy, secure childhood, with the love of my family and people around. I lived in a small village with people who cared about each other and their help was always at hand.

   So yes, life is unfair. It has been unfair to me in the most positive way. The only negative thing about this good fortune is that it made it hard for me to understand what it truly was to be ill. Yes, I sympathised with people suffering from illness, and thought I understood, but the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth, chronic illness in particular. 

   I never suffered from depression, even though it was what took my father's life when I was eighteen. I'd never seen the evidence of it. For healthy people, it's a mystery. Why can't they just pull themselves together, I used to think.

   I still don't suffer from depression, in spite of what I've been through, but the experience of serious illness has made me much more aware of its nature and its crippling effect on the mental and physical health of others.

   What about "unfairness" since this illness hit? Let's consider it objectively. I have had access to the best medical services that could possibly be provided, and comparatively speaking, which means my capacity to pay, at a bearable financial cost. We live in rented house that consumes a great proportion of our income, but we're not out on the street.

   I've also had the extraordinary good fortune of having a partner, now wife, possessing great intelligence and experience in medical matters, with love and foresight and attention to detail that would never have occurred to me until it was too late. This is something I'll be eternally grateful for.

   If I must go into hospital, the full facilities of our medical system will be there. We criticise its inadequacies, as well we should, but comparatively speaking, it is one of the best in the world, even at its worst. To say otherwise is to denigrate the efforts of some of the finest people in the world.

   In countries I know well where poverty abounds, consider the plight of a woman deserted by her husband, often with small children at her feet. A woman with a goitre that will kill her in a terrible way has no access to treatment that here costs a few cents here in Australia. That few cents is more than she can afford. Every day for her is a fight for existence.

   Right now it's raining outside and yet I have secure roof over my head. It's cool but the fire in the lounge is burning brightly.  I think of people in war-torn countries such as Syria where young people have been living a life of fair quality, and suddenly they find that they have nothing. No shelter, no food, no safe water. A war zone like Aleppo, about which I have written, is a terrible place for civilians. They may have ghastly injuries and no access to medical treatment or medicines.

   So how can I complain when I compare my life, even since I've become ill, with the sort of life that many of them are living right now?

   Not many things irritate me, but there is one. It's where I hear the constant complaints of people who have everything in this life and don't appreciate it. They complain of inconvenience and minor illnesses and think that they are hard done by.

    Yet many of them are sitting there in front of a computer, with the whole world at their fingertips, and they have seem to have no appreciation of that at all. They have access to the greatest privileges that any human being can possibly have. Hey, if you have complaints, make sure they're the ones that really matter.

   The majority in our society have never known real suffering over an extended period of time. We can be thankful for it. I can't think of a single thing more characteristic of a stable society than a full belly for its people. I have said this before, but I would like sometimes for a complaining person with nothing worth complaining about to be dropped in a remote village in Bangladesh with $10 in their pocket, and tell them that they have to make their own way in the village for a week. Just a week. No phone, no access to an Australian Embassy – just to survive on their wits.

   The irony is, the villagers would undermine my experiment. Living in hardship themselves, they would be abundantly generous to this poor stranger and share everything they owned with them. (Still, I would like my complaining friend unused to privation of any sort to sleep, eat and attend to their ablutions in a squat toilet with the local kids peeping in and chortling through the cracks. Even for just a week, that would be salutary!)

   There are people I know in this country to whom life has been unfair in a negative way. Some in our country have grown to adulthood with no advantages, or face a bleak future, but there's a good chance that if you're reading this in front of the computer or on some mobile device it's not going to be you. Some have had misfortune they don't deserve by any standards, but which many people will never understand, and yet the unfortunate are often the ones who cope with great forbearance, dignity and compassion to others.

   There are important issues in our society which need to be addressed. Are we thinking about those and not only about the selfish things in our existence? Next time you want to bitch about something, then consider the life of so many people who have little or nothing at all. When your political party or sporting team loses and you feel miserable, keep your sense of proportion, or acquire one. If that's all you can think of, you have no reason for complaining.

   The reality is that life has been good to me in ways I can't really justify in terms other than plain good luck. Sure, I would like to live to 100 in good health, get my telegram from the Queen, and then one night die peacefully in my sleep.

   It seems an unlikely scenario. But there's one thing of which I'm certain – that when I die it will be in circumstances that are the best possible for a human being whose life has been cut short by an illness which is as terrible as the worst of them. My death may not be peaceful, but it will be as comfortable as it possibly can be made to be.

   So yes, life is not been fair to me, and I'll agree with you when you say it. But now you know what I mean. It's a very fortunate "unfair".

13 comments:

  1. Denis, you more than anyone, have made so many of us appreciative of our good fortune - through your situation and through your handling of it. My real regret is that you too have not enjoyed a full life for longer. Keep positive ... I am sure you will.

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    1. Thanks Bob. As long as possible, mes amis!

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  2. You speak/write the thoughts and feelings I have on this matter which I cannot do so well as you do. Thank you Denis.

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    1. I'm not so sure of that because I know your writing skills. You and Dave together ought to be writing what would be an utterly unique and fascinating blog. Yes, I know that it's very hard for Dave to write [apart from the Trailrider blog], and for you to find the time to fit it in amongst everything else you do, but what a marvellous contribution you'd make. After your recent teaching exploits, it would be perfect. We must speak more of this.

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  3. The "So unfair" school might really suggesting that we are all part of some grand game whose rules have been warped by our particular lot in life. "So unfair" might suggest that a divine rule-maker has somehow messed up in setting our agenda.

    On the other hand though "So unfair" might, unwittingly, have hit the nail on the head.

    One of the hardest things to grasp firmly is the idea of randomness. The pure chance that is part of the long history of evolution or the misfortune that strikes me or you Denis with some affliction. "Why me?" we might rail but all that the lottery of life says is that it will be someone.

    Perhaps we can rephrase "So unfair" as "Jolly bad luck" - we drew the short straw. Somebody else won the lottery. Somebody else was born in Syria.

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    1. Well put. Just as long as no-one tries to tell me that the reason is to teach me a moral lesson. It might make me a better, more caring person, but that's a side effect of the circumstances, and no divine rulemaker would impose misery on innocent children to teach them or their parents such a thing.

      I won't have it. Slot it in in some other way, but don't tell me that's a 'reason'. It's not reasonable.

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    2. Precisely. Randomness and reason are not related - other than by their initial letter.

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  4. I found your blog through aimless wanderings around the net and have been keeping an eye on your life for the last week , todays post was the most the one that made me have a good look at myself and the way I live , thank you , hang in there denis

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    1. What you say, Denis, is, as always, well said and very true. We need to count our blessings often as millions in the world are much worse off.

      However, I'm enough of a Buddhist to believe that suffering is not necessarily dependent on our individual circumstances. If it were, then all the well-off people in the world would be happy. That they often are not demonstrates that some truth to the Buddhist proposition that suffering is endemic to life and is caused by craving. The cure is the cessation of craving, which means nirodha, or as the Yoga Sutras put it in the first sutra, the cessation of the whirring of the mind.

      So I guess that no matter how privileged we are, as long as our minds incessantly whir, we'll find something to complain about.

      Also, to be a little more compassionate I'll add that, there will always be someone worse off than ourselves, but that does not make our own problems irrelevant.

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  5. What you say, Denis, is, as always, well said and very true. We need to count our blessings often as millions in the world are much worse off.

    However, I'm enough of a Buddhist to believe that suffering is not necessarily dependent on our individual circumstances. If it were, then all the well-off people in the world would be happy. That they often are not demonstrates that some truth to the Buddhist proposition that suffering is endemic to life and is caused by craving. The cure is the cessation of craving, which means nirodha, or as the Yoga Sutras put it in the first sutra, the cessation of the whirring of the mind.

    So I guess that no matter how privileged we are, as long as our minds incessantly whir, we'll find something to complain about.

    Also, to be a little more compassionate I'll add that, there will always be someone worse off than ourselves, but that does not make our own problems irrelevant.

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    1. I agree that some never understand the meaning of contentment. The material world is the greatest trap of all. It will never make people happy if happiness depends solely on it. Ever. But that's the world we – or most of us – are trained to believe in. It's a mirage.

      I learned from Asian philosophies to get out of that mindset. That's why I can accept, to the degree I do, everything that has happened in my life.

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  6. Denis,
    I feel that you are articulating the feelings, the words, the emotions that my son was unable to do. He also had a GBM stage 4...and he fought it with all he had and never ever lost his sense of humour or his positivity. In all the time he was ill, I never once heard a word of complaint from him, he was always full of plans for the future and yet he was realistic.
    I am so proud to have been his mother and yes, I was the one who thought it was all so unfair, he was so young, why him, etc etc..but just reading this post of yours was almost like reading something that my son would have said had he been able to towards the end..he was so like you!
    Hang in there my friend...

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    1. Ah now – terminal illness in the young. I think that's always unfair, whether the young person is a member of the royal family, or a street child in Mumbai.

      You can be very proud of your son indeed. It is easier to be brave the more of the cake you've been able to have. The more joys you've experienced. And some young people truly live in their short lives than some who never experienced happiness by the time they were 90.

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