After yesterday’s topic I’m having trouble finding anything to blog about that doesn’t seem trivial by comparison. So, in the interest of transition, I want to share this, which began as a guest blog eighteen months ago. It seems especially appropriate to remember in light of the earthquake/tsunami tragedies taking place in other parts of the world in recent weeks and months.
“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
–Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”
It never fails. A sister, a friend, an acquaintance, will be in the middle of sharing her frustrations with me when she remembers that my daughter has Down syndrome. And abruptly, she cuts herself off. “But of course, I shouldn’t complain. It’s nothing like what you have to deal with.”
This happens so often that I have a standard response: Everyone has their own stresses, I say, and I’m not about to tell someone else that they have no right to complain. Besides, every day my husband and I encounter someone, either in real life or on the news, who has it much worse than we do. Yes, raising a child with Downs is challenging. The hospitalizations, in particular (we’re up to five, in 2 ½ years) are a cross to bear. And yet, our family is better off than many. We have dependable employment; supportive, loving families; great neighbors and a parish community that props us up in our time of need.
Of course, there are the days when it seems like everyone wants a piece of me, and there isn’t enough to go around. When I can’t take the whining and screaming another moment, and I self-destruct into a temper tantrum of my own. When I shake my fist at God and scream, “Can’t you just give me a break already?”
In fact, this happened to me two days ago. Even in the midst of it, I knew that I had no right to be throwing tantrums just because my six-month-old was crying to be held while I needed both hands to make dinner. After all, how can my cross compare to the one borne by the mother in our parish, whose son committed suicide last weekend? What wouldn’t that mother give to be in my shoes instead of hers?
It is hard to justify my own frustrations in the face of such suffering. My own cross—busy-ness, the chaos associated with raising three little ones, one of whom has special needs—seems so petty by comparison. And yet all suffering, great or small, offers an opportunity to grow in holiness. Raising a child with special needs, enduring the loss of a child—volumes (literally) have been devoted to support for these families. But the constant, low-grade annoyances of daily life wear out the spirit, too. We need to affirm the everyday suffering of ourselves and those around us.