Reflections during the season of giving
Do you ever feel cheated?
Like you got bamboozled.
Like you’re owed something.
By the people around you.
By the circumstances.
Do you ever feel that you don’t get what you deserve?
Like poor Ralphie, always getting the short end of the stick.
Obligatory fluffy pink bunny costumes.
My own experiences haven’t been so theatrical, but I can relate to the kid.
The sense of spinning wheels and getting nowhere.
Paying attention for weeks on end to secret radio show decoder messages, only to have the rug ripped out from under you: an Ovaltine advertisement.
Putting time and effort into XYZ, only for X to break, Y to get stolen, and Z is lost in transit after you paid an extra baggage fee.
The feeling that
You. Just. Can’t. Win.
And you feel bitter.
Or ripped off.
And it comes in different ways with different offerings.
You send a message and get left on ‘Read.’
You drive all the way to a place only to find out it’s closed.
And there isn’t anyone in particular to blame.
Because the frustration you feel comes from within.
“Do I deserve this?” the ugly dark phrase creeps in.
And we start evaluating our efforts.
Or our worth, against trivial moments.
We bask in the bizarre but very real experience of what Rumi calls ‘The sweet taste of grief.’
We let our guard down and allow ourselves to feel sad.
I was on the metro rushing from one job to another.
My backpack exploding a mixture of uniforms.
Can’t even eat my lunch in peace- gotta scarf it down while in transit.
A disheveled guy approached and asked for five bucks.
In my messy, rushed state, I looked down at my hands and back up at the guy.
‘You can have half of this peanut butter sandwich,’ I said, and ripped it in half.
‘No,’ he replied, ‘What are you homeless?’
I showed up for someone I love. Someone who is not doing well. I made time. I made a journey to be there. I committed to being pleasant and present. I stayed as long as life permitted. But when the time came to go back to the abyss of other people and places and things I’ve gotta show up for, anger ensued.
The time and space I’d lovingly carved out to share.
Careful to prioritize.
To make time for what’s right.
To make time for everything.
Was swiftly forgotten.
Only angst and anger remained.
My offering met my own face in a slammed door.
The efforts retroactively lost.
It wasn’t enough.
You rush to make coffee before running out the door because you’re already late. And you put the jar of coffee in your backpack while stuffing it with other things. And then the bag falls off the counter and the jar breaks and everything inside is soaked with coffee AND crushed glass bits AND you’re already late.
Just hand over the goddamned bunny suit.
The feeling that you’re on the show ‘Pranked,’ or ‘Boiling Points,’ ALL THE TIME.
A secret hope that someone is going to come out from around the corner and say that all of this was a set up: The coffee in fact did NOT just spill all over your backpack; the glass is not really broken into a million pieces. As a matter of fact, ‘You’re on TV!’
I guess that would be worse, because why the heck would someone be filming a TV show in my house?
Or knocking my backpack filled with coffee on the floor.
Or leaving my message on ‘Read.’
Or calling me homeless.
Or getting angry with me when I’m trying so hard to show up.
And I can’t help but question:
Is this what I deserve?
And I keep coming back to that idea.
Wondering what I have done to deserve the XYZ chaos.
Why this word ‘deserve’ feels so yucky anyway.
Always hanging out with words that give it a bad connotation.
Deserve has got a bad rap.
What does it actually mean?
So I looked: deserve (v.) "to merit, be worthy of for qualities or actions, earn, merit."
And now I’m even more confused because I wonder:
Did my behavior ‘merit’ that response?
Is this what I’ve ‘earned’ as a result of my actions?
But any way I slice it up, it doesn’t seem to fit.
It doesn’t match the internal sense of what I feel I’ve ‘earned.’
Because I tried to share?
Because I tried to show up?
Because I tried to get somewhere on time for once?
But then I think back to the times in my life, albeit mostly trivial and temporary, those moments described above, questioning if it was ‘what I deserved.’
And I thought about the other side of the situation.
Did my message not merit a response?
Did this poor disheveled guy feel he deserved to be offered a meager PB sandwich, instead of the money he requested?
Did this person I care about feel that they deserved more of my time and space?
Did my coffee deserve to be enjoyed hot and ready or not at all?
These are surely silly examples, but the point holds: No one around here feels like they get what they deserve.
And in fact, if we do, it’s the negative version of it.
Of course I deserve a smashed jar of coffee all up in my backpack when I was already late. Maybe I should stop rushing.
Of course I deserve to be called homeless. I look a disheveled mess myself.
Of course I deserved the anger. I should have been more clear about what my intentions were.
And at the bottom of it all. No one feels they get what they’ve earned. Or what their actions ‘merit.’ Often the complete opposite.
And maybe the point is that we should stop conceptualizing about what we think we deserve. What we think our actions merit. What we think we’ve earned.
Ralphie gets a C on his essay.
His dad’s leg lamp broken to pieces.
The whole family gets stuck eating duck in a Chinese Restaurant on Christmas.
And maybe life just does not work according to our small human concepts of ‘merit,’ ‘earn,’ or ‘worthy.’
Maybe life just plays itself out.
And you win some and you lose some.
And sometimes your tongue gets frozen to a telephone pole.
Even after everyone around you says in some form or another of ‘You’ll shoot your eye out.’
Under the tree
On Christmas morning,
Is the official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 shot range model air rifle.
And for a fleeting moment you feel you’ve gotten
What you deserve.