When I was young, I envied other kids—their houses, their parents together, their siblings. I wanted the same clothes other girls had—or their looks—or their confidence. They knew when to speak up, they knew their place in the world.
I was stuck in my own growth because I looked at other people and saw what I was not, what I had not.
Later, I discovered other young moms lived in nicer houses than ours. Their children always wore pretty clothes. The family car was newer, or classier.
Many years afterward, I learned a valuable piece of advice at a Weight Watchers meeting: “Don’t compare your inside to their outside.” What I saw in others wasn’t, necessarily, the whole truth.
Over time I began to learn a few things by observing the lives of others:
- Some young couples had huge debt to help them look good: big house, new car, pretty clothes.
- Some confident people were, in fact, pushy; some had no compassion for people in pain; some never saw below the surface in people.
- Some very talented people have unpleasant side effects--lacking in good sense, unloving to their children, gossipy and back-biting.
True, not all young people or confident people or talented people were like the examples I cite here. That’s one of the challenges of life—just when you think you’ve got it figured out, somebody comes along and makes you do a 180 in your preconceptions.
Little by little I learned the nature of Envy, and why it is harmful. I read books, I listened to sermons, I began to ponder the details of other people’s lives.
The people I was drawn to most, the ones who remained friends for many years, were people who enjoyed the same things I did: a walk through the meadow at the farm where I used to live here in Northeast Indiana; or sitting and talking about literature, music, or art, while sipping herbal tea; or drinking wine and listening to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. (My first experience of Beethoven’s Seventh had me in tears.)
These lovely people took me out of myself. And by that simple, compassionate, caring act, they helped me banish Envy. Over time I began to be the person I wanted to be. Or, perhaps a better way of saying it is: I began to love the person I was becoming.
I say becoming because there is no closure to this process of growing.
So I can say, with some regret, that the Envy I now harbor—I think it’s the only one—is the envy of people who are allowed to cry. To express their pain, their sorrow, their grief, their anguish.
From my earliest memories I was admonished not to cry. Not even when I got hurt. Not even—God forgive me—when my mother died. (My father couldn’t express his grief, therefore I shouldn’t grieve either.)
So as a young child I began to hide my tears, my feelings.
One of the first people to help me become a feeling person was Vira Marner Palmer. She was an outspoken, feeling woman who often voiced her opinion. When I married into the Palmer family, I gained a new mother.
More than anyone in my life, she knew what it was to be an only child whose mother had died too young. She was not a pleaser. I don’t recall seeing her cry, but I’ve seen her angry and heaping abuse on a man who was publically harassing her husband.
Before her death when I was 28, she urged me to go back to college and finish my degree. She had graduated from high school, and she was married to a college professor; her sons were in college pursuing advanced degrees. Vira recognized the importance of education.
Learning goes on forever . . . and I’m still learning about Envy, among other things.
One important thing I know is this: No one has all the gifts/luck/possessions/talents. Each of us has some. And what we have is important.
Do not envy.
(That is my goal.)
Celebrate the good others do, or have.
(I try to do that.)
Becoming. That’s what it’s all about.