You know what it is like. You spot a book cover intimating that the secrets of successful aging are now at your fingertips. As if. The book came out in 2000, but did I care then? Nope. I didn’t have a cranky hip in 2000.
In this book, all of Rosenblatt’s observations have at least one page dedicated to them. Priceless bon mots like “Nobody is thinking about you, never miss an opportunity to do nothing, never say: How much is this boat? And my personal favorite: Never go to a cocktail party, but if you do, don’t stay more than 20 minutes.”
Yet on the page dedicated to envy, the author doesn’t elaborate. Just one sentence: Envy no one—ever. White space follows.
From one point of view, the statement doesn’t need commentary. We all know envy is bad juju and almost as superstitious. But do we think about why?
The sting of envy is different now than when I was younger. I feel less envy in general because I can’t muster up the same ambition I once had. This is good.
Also, I’ve just lived longer. There is no getting around life as a lot of trade offs, (although the card that never gets traded is: This above all to thine own self be true.) None of us knows the lives that people lead on the inside…and for that reason alone, envy doesn’t make sense.
What I’m struggling with now is different. I’m wrestling with the part of me that has lost what I once had: the fearless moxie I wore so lightly, not being able to take long hikes anymore, jonesing to play savage* 12 bar blues on guitar.
Then there is the porch swing that beckons after an hour scratching in the dirt. Boy is it hard to admit this! These losses makes me feel envy towards the people who still can do these things. I watch YouTube videos of blues guitarists and think: maybe in another life. (You might be thinking: Yeah, yeah. Cry me a River. She is lucky to have had these things at all. Of course you’re right.)
Maybe what I’m struggling with is acceptance. Accepting that cranky hip, the arthritic hands and aging in general. Not comparing myself with anybody else. Roger Rosenblatt didn’t say it, but it’s there, implicit in the one-liner and the white space.
One of my favorite quotes from Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, is about judging other people. This is my translation from the old Italian—my attempt at making it a little more accessible.
“When you judge, be not too confident, like those that appraise the corn in the field before it is ripe. For I have seen the briar appear dead and rigid all through the winter and later bear the rose upon its stem, and once I saw a ship run straight and swift over the sea, only to perish at the mouth of the harbor.”
When I read that quote I think about how little we know. We surely don’t know the trajectory of anyone else’s life seen against the backdrop of long time. What looks like success might not be at all, conversely so-called failure may later “bear the rose on its stem.”
I don’t have answers these days, but I’m learning to live with big puzzle pieces missing. I’ve learned that “Why?” is one of the most unproductive questions I can ask. Wondering why I got cancer for example; useless. Wondering why a child has cancer. Heartbreak.
Yet other questions are envy killers and powerful medicine: Do I love enough?
How gracefully do I let go of things not meant for me? This is where I am going. This is my next step.
I know this is an unusual topic, with spring bursting out all over. But I’m interested if you struggle with envy. How do you adapt to a changing body that can’t do everything you want it to do? What advice do you have for all of us?
*According to my Irish friends, savage means brilliant, only better. I like it. Savage. Wow.
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Along the lines of another Dante theme–the more that are rich, the richer is each—I was invited to join a global collaboration of photographers and artists. In our community of support, we feature our personal art as “Vision to Verb” note cards. These artistic cards can be purchased at: www.visionandverb.com. On the site, go to “Our Shoppe.”
Our hope is that the cards and our writing may inspire you to join with us in our support of San Francisco based KIVA—which empowers people around the world with start-up business loans. KIVA. ALL proceeds from the note cards goes towards supporting KIVA.
You can find me blogging at Vision & Verb once a month. Here is my March post:
Let’s hope spring is around the corner!