At the tail end of a recent e-mail I read the following signature, “The grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but you still have to mow it.” Hmm, brings up a good point. Every so often I have to remind myself, or be reminded, that there really are advantages to both the single and married lifestyles. I guess it’s just our human nature which tends to disdain that which we possess on a daily basis and yearn for what is just outside our reach.
Catch a married man or woman feeling down in the dumps and you may hear some wistful allusion to the idea that, “..if only I were single again, things would be easier.” With marriage come responsibilities. They are welcome tasks, of course, done for the one we love. Yet after a while they can seem heavy at times. Mortgages, schedules, disagreements, in-laws, even get-a-ways can easily turn into an act of Congress if only just to get the family to the beach for the day and back. When married it’s easy to think all would be better if we only had ourselves to worry for. When single its easy to think all would be better if we only had someone to help us share our burdens. Odd, isn’t it?
Being single has its good and bad, its ying and yang. Going to the beach for me only requires some pocket money for lunch, a tank of gas and two minutes to lock up the apartment. A sunny day, and I’m gone. But that’s not to say there aren’t times I’ve skipped making dinner to eat out at an Italian restaurant only to sit at my table and notice married couples enjoying dinner over candle-light together. Even when with one of my female friends I can feel that my evening is but a passing moment while the couple across the room are building to the life they share together.
Yet it remains that after ten or more years of marriage some married people still feel we singles have the best of both worlds even as we might look at them and feel they’ve settled a part of their life we’ve yet to begin. I suppose the trick is to not get too deeply entrenched in what’s “over the fence” to the degree we are unable to enjoy the position we are currently in as singles. (As mentioned in the restaurant scene.) This is when we do our own selves good to simply be thankful. Thankful that we have today, this moment. We can’t experience the future in the present, so why let it ruin what pleasant present we have now? Of course, as much as this makes sense to read or hear it, actually being thankful for the present can require some repeated effort.
At the opposite end of thankfulness is, not unthankfulness, but envy. To be unthankful requires little or no effort at all. But even as it takes a conscious effort to be thankful, it takes effort to become and remain envious of what we do not have. Usually if I begin by being at first simply lonely, gone unchecked I usually move on to unthankfulness. From there it is a short trip to the position of envy.. looking over the fence at what ‘they’ have. There’s not much mystery to it really, it’s just that simple. Trying to deny that one wants what he or she does not have will not undo the feelings of envy. Instead we have to return to what we began lacking to cause the situation in the first place.. thankfulness. Often it is not so much a matter of undoing anything, but just looking at things in a new light.
There is a historian by the name of Dr. Charles Wadsworth who gives the account of a conversation between King George and a close, clergyman shortly after the independent colonies proclaimed the holiday of ‘Thanksgiving’. Not wanting to look any less pious, King George also appointed a day of thanksgiving. His friend later turned to him in private and asked,
“Exactly what is it that we are to be thankful for? Is it because your Majesty has lost to his dominion thirteen colonies?”
“No, not for that.”
“Well, then, shall we give thanks because so many millions of the treasury have been spent in the war and so much added to the public debt?”
“No, no.. not for that.”, replied the King.
“Shall we, then, give thanks that so many thousands of our fellowmen have poured out their life-blood in this unhappy and unnatural struggle between those of the same race and religion?”
“No, not for that.”, he replied a third time.
“For what, then, may it please your Majesty, are we to give thanks?’
“Thank God!”, cried the King, “thank God it is not any worse.”
My Mom used to tell me the same thing from when I was small until now. “No matter how bad things get, it could always be worse.” This is when it does one good to have ventured out and really spent time being acquainted with the poor. As distraught or lonely as I may feel at any given time, too easily I forget those with even harsher, more immediate difficulties to face. I know two brothers, Roberto and Gilberto, who not only lost their Mother to disease but were several months later abandoned by their father to an orphanage as he disappeared from their lives to live with some other woman. They were ages 10 and 7 when this happened. I could fill pages with people I’ve known closely who lost their leg as a child, lived homeless, resorted to prostitution to stay alive, saw their son born deformed, so many things that I really have to stop and consider.. “Lonely as I may be for a mate, perhaps I am more needed at this moment to ease someone else’s situation.”
Some people put this by way of saying, “Take your mind off your own troubles and be thoughtful of others.” However it is put, it bears remembrance. After reading much of what goes on in the internet newsgroups it is easy to get tangled into thinking that finding love has something to do with being clever or calculating when dealing with the opposite sex. But I still believe that there are certain absolutes such as mercy, kindness, patience, forgiveness, love, friendship.. and many others that are not so much difficult to understand as they are demanding of our character. Being thankful does not come easy or automatically, but it does come with its own reward.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.