Thursday, June 21, 2007

Standing in the Long Line

When I was growing up my mom always said, “Someday when we’re rich…” As a child I believed that someday we would be rich, or we would “get ahead.” I believed it like a child believes in the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. But, it took me a bit longer to let go of this fantasy.
One day when I was still a teenager, maybe seventeen, my mom and I were standing in a long line at the airport waiting to check in to our flight. It was one of those pull your hair out, drive you mad, long lines. We began to get a little impatient and kept watching First Class passengers check in at the short line, which was not even a line, because they did not have to wait. My mother unhappily started in, “Won’t it be nice when we’re rich someday and we fly first class.” I turned to her and said,

“No, Mom, I have accepted the fact that I will always be standing in the long line. And I am okay with that.” It was at that moment, at seventeen years old, standing in a painfully long line, that I realized, since most of us will always be standing in the long line, I had to accept this fact, not let it frustrate me, get me down, and have patience with life; or I could let it swallow my good nature; or I could deceive myself by saying, “Someday…”

Being self-deceived is never okay. Acceptance and patience with your “lot in life” is key. I know why people do bad things. They are not at peace with the woes and struggles of life—they cannot accept that struggle is a part of life. The old adage, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” is foolish. That assumes that life also handed you sugar and the other tools to make the best of the situation. Sometimes you just get lemons. So, perhaps it is best to learn to eat the lemons just as they are, bitter and all. Let that experience make you stronger and more patient with life. Perhaps one can even learn to admire the taste. You will not be eating lemons every moment of life. It will help you to appreciate the “sweetness” of life and so much more. And if life never hands you sweetness, at least you have become accustomed the taste of lemons.

This may seem like an awful way to look at life—to never hope for more; to not hope for the very best out of life; the pick yourself up by your own bootstraps American attitude. But, I have learned that very few people stand in the short line. That's why it is so short. If my parents, after fifty years, are not standing in the short line, I too will probably not be standing in the short line at that age. It makes life all the more intolerable to long for something that will never be—It is tragic to fail to appreciate what you have been given—always waiting and hoping for more.

The point I am trying to make with long lines and lemons metaphor is this: There is humility and character building in these experiences. I have learned that I do not need to stand in the short line to be happy. When enduring tragedy, hardship, strife, I know that the pain will not last. The taste of it is not so bitter to me. When I say my prayers at night, I do not hope to someday be rich, but count the tiniest blessings in my gratitude and praise. I am thankful I had food today and that I could pay my bills. I am grateful I have a safe, comfortable place to live. My joy overflows to kiss my husband each day and watch our infant son grow into a beautiful person.

And should I find myself in a situation like Job, in which this life of exile has left me with little more than a scrap of cloth to hide my shame, I shall bow even lower to the Lord God. I shall cling greater to every prayer and join every liturgy. Because, when this life cannot even offer me lemons, I still have my place in the universe granted to me by the Creator. That place is my own personal “short line.”

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