Envy no one–ever

Martin D-28

So saith Roger Rosenblatt, an essayist I love and whose little book Rules for Aging so intrigued me that I swooped it up from a pile of books at Powell’s.

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.”  

Cloisters in the age of Dante AlighieriCloisters in the age of Dante Alighieri

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.

*****                                                            *****                                                                        *****

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.

Vision & Verb

You can find me blogging at Vision & Verb once a month. Here is my March post:

What I Live For…

Let’s hope spring is around the corner!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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    • Oh my goodness Beth, this is a mystery solved and I do apologize! If you read the very last comment on the Vision & Verb post, you’ll see that I wrote about this butterfly and how it seemed to just appear, without a watermark on it and without even knowing who it came from. I wanted people to know that I had not taken this exquisite photograph and did not know who did. So everyone….now I know..please do visit Beth’s blog at http://www.plantpostings.blogspot.com and see all of the marvelous photography there. The latest post also has the songs of Cedar Waxwings–it’s glorious.

      Reply
      • You are kind, Susie. You are an amazing writer and your words speak to me. I was thinking last night about people’s journeys and how the path is different for all of us. When we get to a certain age (with some it happens early), we realize no matter what path we take is a gift. My photo on your Vision and Verb post has a story that I think might be a good post in the weeks to come. Thanks for using it and for linking back. Peace!

  • “…once I saw a ship run straight and swift over the sea, only to perish at the mouth of the harbor.”

    For me, this is a magical image, not as an argument against feeling envy (feeling are feelings; they come, they go) but as a description of what envy does to me, bodily. I’m sailing straight and swift — then envy upends me. Glub, glub, glub. I’m swamped with my mouth full of seawater. Again.

    Reply
    • That is a very powerful way to interpret that passage. I won’t forget it, especially since the Dante part is already in my brain….and now *your* experience of it enriching the whole thing. Glub, glub. Yes, that is what it feels like.

      Reply
  • Marilyn

    Beautiful essay, Susie. I haven’t read Dante in the original (hardly! I can barely order pizza in Italian) but it’s clear that your translation is masterful. As for envy, I think Nan is right, feelings are feelings and no point denying them; but for me they’ve changed over time. Envy is no longer that sharp stab of ‘should have been me!’ but a slight, wistful twinge–‘ah yes, one more thing not for me in this lifetime.’ And it’s gone. Age has many benefits.

    Reply
    • Thank you Marilyn. This is just one of the things I had hoped to convey, that the sharp stab of envy changes with age. It is a distinct benefit of age I think, and yet one we don’t often hear about. It is a loss but a bittersweet one and I love the way you put it: “a slight, wistful twinge-‘ah yes, one more thing not for me in this lifetime.’ That is a very very big deal to be able to think that way. I know that for me, I want age to bring freedom. It isn’t always that way in my body, but nobody can stop me from making it so in my mind.

      Reply
  • I don’t see the point in envy. I’m very happy in my life and choices. If I see something in someone else that I admire that motivates me to change my own behavior, it’s not out of envy but admiration and an awareness of my own walls or challenges.

    Reply
    • I totally agree with that. And admiration is such a positive emotion–I feel it often when I watch my friends or appreciate the talents of so many. This piece was a way for a nearly 64-year-old over-achiever to explore new emotions around things I probably won’t get to this time around. That is much easier to accept than the things I was super good at that I am losing. I want to develop new skills in my heart to deal with that loss. Humor about it helps! Thanks as always Tammy, you’re great.

      Reply
  • There is always sadness and regret when we let something go. I think acceptance is a gift of aging. I’m grateful for the new rythm of my life. The things I’ve let go made room for rich blessings hitherto unknown.

    Reply
    • I think that must be where I am now: making room for new blessings. It does seem to be working–it has allowed me the time to think about this. I don’t want to miss out on the gifts of this time, that’s for sure….the rhythm of these days and this time. Thank you Susan, your thoughts are really appreciated. And I also appreciate the acknowledgment that letting something go does cause sadness and regret. There’s a quote my husband often says: “Regret is an illumination come too late.” I think it’s Joseph Campbell. Isn’t that interesting? Takes some thinking about…

      Reply
  • THANK you for this brilliant bit of writing
    ….such a happy rush to wander over the hill today and
    find this bright patch of sweet lush wildness blooming
    in my morning. I sat right down and looked up at the sky
    from this place you’ve created. And tucking a new favorite
    word (savage) into my knapsack as I head along…thanks:)
    Really grateful to have made my way here today,
    Jennifer

    Reply
    • Wow, thank you Jennifer. I’m glad you made your way here also. Jennifer, are you the same writer that posts occasionally at “She Writes?” I saw a photo recently and it could have been you. There was not enough of the writing to spot your unmistakable style, but I was wondering…(I’ve tucked “savage” in my knapsack too-:)) See you down the road.

      Reply
  • I find, like you, that as I grow older I rarely envy anyone. And I often think that it’s circumstances – usually not under our control – that changes so many things in our lives. Perhaps that’s why I don’t envy anyone. I know good and bad come around in life – to everyone at some time. Maybe growing wiser is just learning to handle what life hands us.

    Reply
    • I needed to read just exactly what you wrote this morning. Thank you for that. This is one of the gifts of this blog, that I learn and hear things just when I need to. You did capture the sense of my post exactly as I had meant it. The Buddhists say: “Good luck. Bad luck. All same.” And the reason is as you have written it–so-called good and so-called bad come around in life and sometimes change places! We are not in control. Thank you as always Holley for being here.

      Reply
  • I envy less and less as I age…but I do have issues with dealing with aging. I am trying to find other things that won’t take my kneeling and bending and digging so much so I can have other interests…art, photography and design are my next steps to explore…but aging is a matter of acceptance on one hand and not letting go too much on the other…I refuse to give in and where I can I will stay the course and not let go.

    Reply
  • Hi Donna, I just came in from planting dahlias in the late evening sun–it was heaven…and I thought “No way am I giving this up!” Funny the phases we go through yes? I am interested in your comment and was wondering if you could tell me more because we’ve come to know each other online. Can you elaborate more on “not letting go too much?” I’ve read it over a couple of times and I sort of understand, but I would really like to know what you mean because I value you. Are you thinking of it as the opposite of acceptance?

    Reply
  • Very thought provoking. Envy is so corrosive, and pointless too. Not judging is hard. I try to remember that I have no idea what is going on in anybody else’s life to make them behave in a way that I find myself struggling with. That said, I do find that as I get older I am less willing to put up with people behaving badly towards me, life is too short, and I am finally learning that I deserve better. I think my favourite is the one about nobody thinking about you, I came across it ages ago, and it really helped me become less self conscious.

    Reply
  • Recently I came across the statement: What anyone thinks of me is none of my business. (You may have to read that more than once!) I loved that. Just removes the whole issue doesn’t it? And yes, what a freedom to know nobody is thinking about us. I love it. Makes me want to dance in the grocery store aisles…ya know, a little jig…who cares? Anyway, I do like what you have said about not knowing what is going on in the lives of others. That alone gives me compassion along with the freedom.

    Reply
  • About the word petrichor?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrichor
    Scientists writing for Nature in 1964.
    I prefer to translate it as – the blood of the earth.

    Aging and envy? Years ago I was guided to valuing contentment. Good enough, is. Bitterness can say – I’ll never climb Kilimanjaro. But, my husband did just before he met me, his stories and his pictures took me there. Later this year my great-niece plans to go. There’s no envy – but I will love to hear her story when she returns!

    Reply
  • Diana, I wish I lived closer to you. I feel like I’d learn so many things. I love this word because it has that dimension that native peoples use: a solitary word that conveys an entire emotion, experience, event. I’ve shared it with my writing friends. I appreciated the mature look at envy and aging–this was what I was driving at…how do we think and adapt in new ways. Ways that work. I’m off to France on a pilgrimage in Provence and I know there will be lots of climbing. I’m going to do everything I can to be prepared for it, and beyond that, I will be happy in my own skin. There is something powerful about encouraging a great-niece who is doing something you would have loved to have done. In that story, lies the truth of Life. We will fade, but we have much to offer. Do you know Hermann Hesse’s “Transformations?” It is my touchstone for the trip.
    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/643794-stages-as-every-flower-fades-and-as-all-youth-departs Thanks for visiting Diana, I always like it when you do.

    Reply

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