I am such a princess sometimes. Yes, I’ve done more unpaid and underpaid work in my life than any man I know. Yes, much of it has been thankless, even when it’s been physically and mentally and rigorous, emotionally exhausting. Yes, my cancer and treatment has taken much from me and left me altered, unable to recover much of what I’d still hoped to recover even at midlife. Yes, I have permitted others to steal from me, and I have regrets. Yes, midlife for me, as for most of us, is a lake of incompletely lived life and broken dreams. Yes. But.
All of this, I saw close-up yesterday when I met my new student, is nothing in light of what some people face.
“You live close?” she asked, at least I think that’s what she asked. “Yes,” I told her, to which she responded by saying she has no home.
To be homeless and injured and unemployed and alone in a country whose language you don’t speak, whose ways you don’t know… I can’t even imagine. To begin again at midlife with the most basic building blocks of language and literally everything, when you’ve been traumatized beyond anything most of us can even imagine, to have virtually no education, to be at the bottom of our society’s pecking order, to be disadvantaged and invisible… this I have difficulty processing. Here, hope and silver linings become elusive.
She is alive, and safe here now, in Canada, but still. My parents did this too, but they were young, they had each other, and they came from a culture that had, in many ways, equipped them to adapt. They also had a vibrant community of others in the same situation, and they worked hard, learned quickly, and made new lives for themselves. Meeting my new student overwhelmed me.
I know our lives—whatever shape they’ve taken—can be a grind, and I don’t want to take away from anyone’s pain in any way. I know that the disadvantage of others does little to mitigate our own frustrations and losses and loneliness. I know that we all lack in one way or another, we all hunger for strong minds and bodies, for intimacy, for respect and fulfillment in our work, a place in our communities.
But sometimes the best way for me to ward off my own despair–to make at least a temporary peace with my own struggles and defeats and to clear a little space for gratitude and empathy–is to spend a little time with those whose losses and challenges are infinitely greater than my own and share a little in their struggle and hope.