This was a story I put together for the Moth StorySlam in September. Alas, my name was not one of the ten names they drew from the hat. So, you can read it instead! The theme was “Lessons”. Enjoy.
2014 was a very bad year, and I was not in the mood for learning any lessons. 2014 was the year my son graduated from high school and didn’t come home. He was living the life of an addict. He lived on the streets, he stole, he lied, he got arrested. He nearly killed himself in a car accident. That year my dog died, I had to give my cat away, my mom had major heart surgery, and my father-in-law died. Am I missing anything?
I was bitter and oh-so-resentful. How could other people have such perfect lives, when mine sucked? It felt as if I should wear a sign that said, “My life is awful, and darn it, yours isn’t.”
My husband, John, assured me that bad things happen to everyone. Some are “badder” than others, and some people don’t have such obvious things happen in such a public way. I did not believe him. But I said “OK, you’re right,” just to shut him up.
In the midst of this, I happened to be taking an online class. One of the assignments was to interview a classmate. We were randomly paired with someone in the class whom we had never met in person. I was paired with Susan, who lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Our assignment was to talk to each other on the phone about how we deal with pain in our lives. I secretly could hardly wait to do it. I thought, man, she is going to listen to my story and be blown away. She will feel so sorry for me.
After I told my story, she started in on hers. She began by mentioning that she had been through a ton of therapy a few years back. Why? Because her father was murdered. He had been living his dream in Palm Springs. Some drug addicts broke into his house, stabbed him, left him in the desert, and kind of casually moved into his house.
OK, so maybe I didn’t need to hang a sign around my neck. Or maybe I could make one for Susan too.
It was during this time I heard Scott Simon interview Elaine Stritch on Weekend Edition. Elaine is mostly known for her work on Broadway. Some of you may know her as Alec Baldwin’s mother on “30 Rock”. She was talking to Scott about the very rough parts of her life. She quoted her husband who said “everybody's got a sack of rocks.”
I thought, really? Everybody’s got a sack of rocks that they are carrying around? That’s news to me. But I started looking around. I looked at the men at Wednesday night’s sing-along at the Union Gospel Mission. I paid attention to all of us weeping at a pet loss support group. Hearing all the sad stories at the support group for parents of alcoholics. Listening to tales at a 12-step group. It’s true. We’ve all got so much pain – a huge sack of rocks – that we are carrying.
So, it turns out Elaine was right. And, yes, my husband John too. We’ve all got a sack of rocks. Elaine. Susan. The good men at the Mission. You and me.
So, what do I do with this lesson?
I have a quote that I have posted on my wall. No one can say for sure who wrote it. It says: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Yes, we’re all suffering in some way. And because of that, we might as well be kind to each other. That’s the best way, the only way, to make our sack of rocks that much lighter.