Recently I was able to visit my sister for a few days by myself. The very first evening in town something felt off.
I realized what it was as I headed through town walking the sidewalks back to the car after our dinner out. I found myself frequently turning around to check on the caravan that I usually travel with. Only they weren’t with me. Strange feeling!! It made me realize how I had grown accustomed to travelling as a group for almost two decades.
For many years, when we went anywhere, we arrived as our own parade.
Often six of us in a line, two driving power chairs. Not just any two, though. A matched set. A pair. Identical twins. Either one of those situations causes people to take another look and so the combination adds up to an extra looong look to process. It can be interesting how people process our family. I understand it. I don’t generally take notice anymore as it is just a part of our comings and goings. But that time it was hard to overlook. As we headed into the grocery store to hit up their hot and cold buffet for lunch we passed another group chatting on their way out.
The eldest gasped and directed the group to look at those twins while exclaiming how lucky they all were.
Not the twins, the rest of the people in her group. She was lucky, too, she acknowledged. She asked several to agree with her outloud about their luckiness. (It was a real “can I get an Amen?” sort of moment!) Right then I felt that we were stamped “unlucky”. But apparently I got my driving license at 16 and my speaking up license at 40. Who knew? I had hit an age where I no longer felt like I had to be a politely silent spectator of life. So I simply said, “I feel lucky, too.” It did startle her a moment. I am not sure what surprised her: that I could easily hear her conversation or that I was declaring us members of her lucky club.
She recovered and assured me it was good that I felt that way.
I ended it there and continued on our procession. OK, OK, I almost ended it. The rest of my thoughts were simply muttered into my middle daughter’s ear. She’s a good sport. It took me some time to shake it off and I ended up with quite a combination of foods touching each other on my plate. Tuna salad, pickled red beet eggs, warm mac and cheese, fried chicken, and artichokes mixed with olives. Did I mention they were touching? Yikes.
I wondered yet again why we all do that…look for someone who we decide is in a worse situation than us to make us feel better about ourselves or lucky.
In fact, I hear people encourage that behavior as they counsel their friends. Admit it, we have all encouraged someone to look around and find another who is worse off saying “see, it could be worse”. In psychology studies they call it downward comparison. It makes me think of those Russian nesting dolls. Somehow we need to be sure there is a smaller doll that would stand below us. Doesn’t change our journey and our struggles and it sure doesn’t encourage the other person. (Have you ever wondered just who it is that ends up as that last littlest doll?) The theory is that when a person is unhappy and unmotivated, he usually compares downward to make himself feel better. Since that person tends to see himself as inferior he is someone who wants to know there is always someone worse than him.
But now I have the advantage of time and perspective. I have embraced the truth that I cannot control what others do or say, but I CAN control how I react to them. So perhaps now, when I find myself functioning as a parade for onlookers, I will just utter the word Matryoshka. Try it…it kinda rolls off with just the right attitude. It is another word for nesting dolls. Instead of imagining us lined up I will picture my family all nested up inside of the One who cares for us all. The One who always STARTED with those who the world sees as the least and tells us to do the same!
Where ever we are on our journey, and where ever we fall in the line up of nested dolls, let’s just help each other.
Psychology may tell us it is normal to look for others who are worse off, or below us, to boost our sense of well being. But if I know my well being is all wrapped up in Christ then I am free to stand beside those that may be current members of the “unlucky club”. I don’t need to point out that we are lucky and they are not but instead I want to enter into their world. I can be a listener, a helper with chores, a giver of meals, an extra pair of hands…a friend.
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.