Earlier this week I received a message from a former colleague. One of our mutual work acquaintances had been identified as a victim in a recent tragedy, and he wanted to make sure I knew.
I worked regularly with this person and spent enough work time with her to know a bit about her background, family, and the things in life she was passionate about. We were not what I would call “friends” but we did have a cordial and friendly working relationship.
In truth, knowing her made me question a lot about myself. She was a good 13 years younger than me and had seemingly accomplished many things in her shorter life than I was able to even consider in my 50-years. She seemed to be living the dream, with an Ivy education, lucrative connections and by all accounts from the external optics, seemed to have a “perfect” home life with a successful husband who supported her professionally, as well as being a real partner in the affairs of home and family.
I struggled to feel worthy after spending any time with her and try as I might to NOT succumb, I wrestled with the green monster too.
Of course all I saw and interpreted was from my own limited perspective; but from this perspective it seemed like she had the secret to living a perfect life, and it felt as if I had been either really DUMB my entire life (and had come from generations of really DUMB), or that I was somehow predestined to struggle for every inch of “a whole lot less”.
I don’t like it when I descend into this kind of self-pity. It surely comes from a level of frustration that I feel when it seems that my own efforts have fallen short. I’ve always worked hard and tried to do the right thing, but my own accomplishments, while certainly worth something, seemed paltry and unimpressive when compared to hers.
On an intellectual level, I fully understand that we’re all running our own race, and that comparing ourselves to ANYONE is a zero-sum-game; but I am human and there are times that following this advice is harder than usual.
I have learned over the years that it sometimes takes a major event or tragedy to remind us that each one of us has our own path to travel. The morning after that call I was acutely more grateful for my less-glamorous life: my average job and the many mundane things that this woman will never get to experience, like hot flashes, figuring out how to pay for part of my son’s wedding when my house needs a roof and balancing the role of caregiver with career as my parents move into their elderly years.
A few years back when I was more prone to periods of self-pity, I could not have seen the future that faced us both. Today I can see so clearly that I have much to be grateful for in my life.
I’m profoundly saddened for the loss that her family is processing as I type these words, but I am similarly grateful for the window into a deep Truth that knowing her has afforded me.
I cannot begin to understand the “reason” that this brilliant, caring and successful young woman was fated to be in the small group of people killed in that tragedy. I can only take away from this situation an understanding that my path is my own, and that no matter what it looks like over there – I need to embrace my journey and my life, and do so with a gusto and a gratitude that is so big that there is no room for thoughts of envy, self-worthlessness, or fear.
I have found that, if I allow it, each person I encounter has something important to teach me – about life, about myself. I am getting better about recognizing the lesson as it unfolds, and continue to be humbled by the many opportunities I have been given to learn these important lessons.
And so the journey continues.