I Never Promised You a Rosegarden

no fairThe two most mem­o­rable lines I can remem­ber from my mother grow­ing up were, “Life’s not fair” and “I never promised you a rose gar­den.” It would infu­ri­ate me to no end when she would recite either to me. I hon­estly felt that jus­tice must pre­vail in our demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety. 

I remem­ber a spe­cific instance in Junior High when I pissed off a teacher. (Admit­tedly, I was a bit of a wiseguy.) I don’t remem­ber exactly what I said to her on this par­tic­u­lar occa­sion, but she really blew her top. She was so angry with me that she came up behind me while I was at my locker, put her scrag­gly hands around my neck and squeezed. Hard. Then she brought me to the headmaster’s office and had me sus­pended. I just couldn’t believe it! I might have made her angry, but how is it that I get pun­ished when she is the one who phys­i­cally attacked me?

Or take the inci­dent with the per­vert gym teacher in the same catholic school. I had just changed out of my gym clothes and was lined up out­side the locker room, wait­ing for the rest of the group so we could be dis­missed to our next class. The teacher lit­er­ally grabbed me and pushed me into the girls locker room, as he laughs his ass off. Sus­pended again. I did noth­ing wrong, yet I get sus­pended — and this guy can get his rocks off check­ing out the girls chang­ing at my expense. Not fair!

These, of course, are just juve­nile exam­ples. Our lives are full of these types of exam­ples. As we grow older, often these injus­tices are much harder to swallow.

Let’s say, for example’s sake, you are wronged by some­one. Say it’s more than obvi­ous you are right and the other per­son is wrong. Say you have lots of evi­dence and you bring them to court. Then let’s say that the judge finds them inno­cent, and you get stuck not only los­ing the case — but also pay­ing legal fees. Not fair, right? Well, this kind of thing hap­pens every day.

Or worse yet. You lose your child to can­cer. Your spouse is mur­dered. The list is endless.

The ques­tion is, “What can we do about it?

I’ve had a lot of prac­tice with this one. I’ve tried out many types of responses. In the end, there is usu­ally noth­ing that can be done. After all, “Life’s not fair!”

Instead what I have found to work for me is to let it go and to move on. Easy to do? HELL NO! But what’s the alter­na­tive? To fes­ter in our own misery?

As incred­i­bly painful as these sit­u­a­tions can be, they are also, unde­ni­ably, oppor­tu­ni­ties for us to grow and to learn. Each time we are con­fronted with an “injus­tice,” we are given the chance to accept full respon­si­bil­ity for how we respond emo­tion­ally. The act of accept­ing respon­si­bil­ity is a lov­ing action we take toward ourselves.

When we don’t accept respon­si­bil­ity, we put all the blame on oth­ers and we make our­selves the “vic­tim.” Con­versely, accept­ing respon­si­bil­ity is a way to empower ourselves.

I’ve learned to replace my mom’s line, “Life’s not fair” with my own line, “It’s not good; it’s not bad; it’s just the way it is.”

In grad school we would hear all the time,“This — or some­thing greater — for the high­est good of all con­cerned.” I found it to be a use­ful phrase to help pull me back out of self-victimization and back into tak­ing per­sonal responsibility.

I know my mom didn’t ever promise me a rose gar­den. But at least I know that I have the abil­ity to make my own.

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