If you are feeling sorry for yourself, the best cure for slumping in the emotional gutter is to put yourself in another’s shoes. Here’s three such moments from my week.
My wife handed me the box of oranges and I walked up to the church where they’ve got a food bank. Yes, here in rural Somerset where farms grow everything we need, where factories large and tiny supply anything from smiling vacuum cleaners called Henry and Hetty to yummy pies, where small business burst forth with innovation all the time, where all of these businesses complain about not finding workers since Brexit, we have people who need free food.
But who I am I to judge. Those lining up may have problems I can’t imagine. For each of my difficult medical conditions, I know somebody in their thirties who suffers from the same debilitating symptoms. OK, I’ve the lot together in one body, but hey, at their age I was lugging a 40 kilo sac up Himalayan slopes. That puts things in to perspective.
As I set down the oranges, the lady manning the tables said, “That’s what you’ve been growing in your garden!”
“This wonderful weather,” I looked up at the wet sky, “has been perfect for oranges.”
A sigh ran up the queue, “Oranges!”
It humbled me. We who haven’t much left over each week can still afford to give away a crate of oranges.
My second incident was a consultation with a doctor and as he worked out my situation, I let myself into his life. “How long have you been in England?” “A few years.” “Did you come for the training?” He hesitated. “No. I, um, I need to leave my country.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Which country is that?” “Pakistan. We’re not Muslim and you have to pretend you are Muslim or life is dangerous, we are killed for nothing other than not being like them.”
“There must be people who accept you as you are.”
“Once, yes, but in recent years extremism has become normal and minorities are lambasted continually. So you hide who you are.”
“What do you think of England?” “It is Paradise! I feel so safe! That luxury just can not be explained to somebody who has not feared death every time they walk out of their door.”
Britain’s Nation Health Service couldn’t run without talented people from such countries and many, like this poor man, have fled danger. Anything I’m facing is mild in comparison.
And now to contrast these incidents with people at the other end of the ladder. I was attending a stretch-class in an attempt to revive my battered body which has slumped upon a bed or a sofa for seven months. As I stepped in to the room, a woman introduced herself and another replied, “I’m Karen.” The first lady, who was dressed in flashy gear retorted, “You poor woman, What an unfortunate name! Did you know that in the USA Karen means….”
Before she could continue, I cut in, “In Thailand the Karen are a superb, inspiring tribe. Karen is a lovely name, Scottish?”
We were asked to settle down on our mats and, “Calm yourselves by breathing in deeply and letting it out slowly.”
We were sinking in to a soothing state when in walked another superbly leotarded woman speaking in a loud voice, “Oh, do I need this today! Oh, what a week I’ve had! Oh! I fell whilst doing a handstand….” And on she wittered, unaware that we were lying prone and trying to relax. I peeped at her. She posed in the way people who think they are good looking do, flouting herself as if she was the star we should all admire. “I blame my husband! Ho! He was slow in taking the photo….” And more and more and there we were lying on our backs trying to relax.
Finally, she settled down amongst us and started to take deeply meaningful noisy breaths. “Aaah! Haaa!” as if we would all be hanging on her every….
A more expensive noise drew our ears to the carpark and the two smart women, but not Karen, went, “Ooooh!” “Ooooooh!” “What a lovely motor!” “I loooove that sound!” And they laughed the laugh of groupies.
Ten minutes late, the lesson was still having difficulty getting into gear. In walked a man, he settled down without fuss and we all sank into the breathing exercise. At the end of the session I noticed the women had expensive sports cars, but that the man who fled the scene the second the class was over, had a far more costly item. Karen, who was dressed demurely, peddled off on her bike.
My wife drew up in our battered car. Three minutes later, my sick body slouched onto a bench under apple trees and we enjoyed warming mugs of chocolate. Such luxury. How lucky we are, we both agreed and to prove it, five geese clacked and chatted to us there in that farm cafe.