It’s Not Fair
A year ago yesterday, Susan Niebur, a blogger and scientist died after a long battle with inflammatory breast cancer. This weekend, I’ll get together with other bloggers to remember her life and the big way she lived it. Right now, I want to share with you one of the most important posts you will ever read. I know I have shared this before, but unless you have read it in the last week, you should read it again. There has never been a better post to help me reframe the idea of “why me” or “why not me,” which feels awfully timely this week as we discuss this idea of judging others. After all, what is the question “why me” except a noticing of what others have or don’t have in reference to your haves or have nots?
Her post, “It’s Not Fair” is about everything from the enormity of her breast cancer diagnosis to coveting the Jones’ vacation opportunities. She tells a story and then applies it to life in general:
Life is given to each of us. We each get one shot at this sucker, and we are never really told that it will be fair. We each get one life, one daily wage, and that’s it. The guy next door gets one life to live. The mom down the street gets one too. No one ever promised us the same life, the same opportunities, the same blessings, or the same time to live. No one ever promised that. We are promised one opportunity, one life, and how we live it is between us and our Creator (I believe). There is no comparing.
Now I need to take the passage to heart, and to stop raging on days when I don’t leave the bed (like yesterday, because of pain and great fatigue), “It’s not fair!” Because it’s not. That’s true. I can’t imagine a scenario where anyone would be happy to get cancer at 35, and think oh, yeah, well, that’s fair. That’s ridiculous! But I am coming to terms with it, and it’s easier when I stop comparing my life to others. I wasn’t promised the same life as my neighbors. I was promised a life.
Life is not fair. There is no shame in pointing out the ways our experiences differ because in doing so, we can sometimes help to even things out for each other. There is no shame in thinking those words or saying them aloud as a therapeutic exercise, to excise sadness and frustration from your heart, if it helps you. There is no shame in asking the question, “why me,” but Susan also gives us the answer to that question.
As humans, we need to ask it. To get through whatever struggle we’re facing or thing we’re coveting, we need to remember her answer or drown in the unfairness.
I think this week what we’ve really been talking about is that human obsession with perceived fairness. We have an obsession with comparing ourselves to others and counting up what each of us have, to see if we come out with what we perceive to be the share we deserve. That comparison manifests in good ways such as motivation to work hard. And it comes out in bad ways such as poisoning a relationship with another person because of jealousy. It is so hard to stop counting, to stop listing, to stop noting all the ways we differ and covet what others have (or don’t have). I love Susan’s post because I feel that it nudges us to use those noticing skills for good: for better ourselves or our communities. Rather than getting stuck in that pit of jealousy. Because it is so easy to do so.
It would be wonderful if life were like eggs nestled in an egg carton. You open up that cardboard carton and every slot is filled the same way, with the same soft support around it, the egg receiving exactly what it needs — the same as its neighbours — so it reaches your kitchen unscathed in an ideal world. It would be wonderfully boring if we each had the same house, the same identical schools, the same food, the same health, and a universe-issued baby dropped into our homes (as well as the same impulse to parent, since you’d need that too). Most of the time, I think I’d take the predictable lack of struggle that comes with that scenario. And sometimes I think that what I’ve earned, what I’ve accomplished, means so much to me. Because it was a struggle. Because it didn’t come easy.
It’s not fair that this world doesn’t have Susan anymore. It’s not fair that other women will be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer today. It’s not fair that others conceive easily and we struggle. It is not fair that one blogger has more readers and support than another blogger who posts and comments just as often. It’s not fair that I took the last of the sour cream last night, leaving Josh with none, nor is it fair that he had to wake up a half hour before me this morning and watch me sleep all toasty in the bed (nor was it really nice or fair when all three of us growled at him when he came to wake us up). Life isn’t equal; it isn’t that egg carton world, for better or worse.
And that is why Susan’s post is so damn important to re-read from time to time.
Please join bloggers throughout the web in honoring Susan Niebur’s life and contributions with a post, and please add your link below.