I catalog here a few petty jealousies, which I most humbly and grievously confess
I like to think of myself as someone pretty darn comfortable with the life I have. So I thought it would be fun to catalog a few moments of envy in my life. I'm reading "Woulda/Shoulda/Coulda", by Freeman and DeWolf. I am not much for self-help psychology books, particularly those that use phrases like "cognitive therapy", but this book has me hooked.
Perhaps it's the subtitle: "Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes and Missed Opportunities". There are many ideas to mine here, about self-defeat and false paradigms. I am "reading it" as I read much non-fiction, taking out slivers and pieces like a magpie would, to make my pseudo-intellectual nest.
The chapter on comparing oneself to others got to me. How often do I do this? Well, let me count up some memorable, if minor league and lightweight, times:
a. what childhood would not be complete without the birthday party to which all the neighborhood kids, including my little brother, was asked, but I wasn't? Of course, I was a year older, and it made sense, in a way, but I told it to myself as some tragedy of loneliness.
b. I remember being jealous of the guy the woman I was devoted to in college loved far better than me. She married him ultimately, a second marriage. It didn't last. He dealt with a lot of difficulty in his life, as near as I can make out. But I longed to be as intriguing to someone as he was to her. I remember the envy inherent in that feeling of being incredibly bland. But with hindsight, bland was not really what I was.
I was functional, and perhaps stable, and sometimes that's not as much on the edge as is desirable.
c. How about the guy in school who was artistic, handsome and the high school quarterback? He's an architecture professor now, and a good guy. But I don't think he'd tell his life as being unqualifiedly enviable, despite his many ribbons.
But when I was a kid, he seemed to have everything (except self-confidence).
d. Careers. Now that's fertile ground. Nothing like seeing an imperfectly gifted lawyer who pulls it off, not through admirable hard work, but by sheer swarminess. It's so easy to count up people who make more money, get more adulation, work nobler case loads, or achieve dreams so seemingly effortlessly.
e. I am not much for material covetousness, but I'll never forget when we first moved to LA, during a housing boom, and a 1400 square foot bit of stucco post-war workers' housing was 300K, and although I made enough money I would be embarrassed to journal it publicly, that was just out of our reach. I remember burning with rage and shame, working so hard, and being unable to have such a basic thing as my own home. What an ignoble bit of materialism--but "heart" felt.
f. I am generally quite happy in the "childless by choice" state, but sometimes something like the fellow the other night who told me that he had two kids, 12 and 16, and the 16 year old is trying to decide between Stanford and Cornell, and I had a flash, not an envy, really, but just a quick, jealous flash of things I'll always miss and never have.
g. I remember an instance in which I was being treated unfairly, to someone else's benefit. I tried to avoid jealousy, but it seeped from my every pore. I learned better later, but what a deliciously pungent, and yet sad, feeling. As the years went on, my eyes opened to how my sense of injustice should have been a sense of narrow escape, but that's another story for another day.
h. Oh, I should not omit the joy of having a younger brother who was much more intelligent than I was. He's a great fellow, but he always ran faster and jumped higher and was a genius at math. In my family, math skills are the one measure of being smart. He had them; I basically did not. Now I do accounting type math for work all the time, and feel a genius. But then I knew the truth about relative math intelligence, and he had it, and I did not. Now we are very close, but we were only thirteen months apart then. He was way cooler than I was. His eyes were blue; mine hazel. It is a joke of mine that he was dressed in blue; I was dressed in brown and army green. But when we go to dinner together, he seems a lot like me. Things burned a little hotter once, though, as far as jealousy goes--on my side (I'm reasonably sure he was relatively blameless).
The least image is perhaps the most exemplary. In middle school, the phys ed class did a six week stint of tumbling. People did flips and somersaults, acrobatically perfoming everywhere.
It came time to give some public demonstration.
All but a few of the least capable were chosen to tumble for their parents and peers. I was chosen to help set up the padded mattresses and benches. I remember watching the boys tumble and flip and listening to the crowds applaud and gasp. These were 6th graders, but they could have been the Cirque du Soleil. I watched from the sidelines, and burned with envy. In life, sometimes, I set up the sawhorses and lay out the tumbling mats.
I have a lot of thoughts on this envy thing, but I'll leave it tonight with but one. I cannot think of a single life I know that I'd choose to live over mine. Trite? Yes. True? Yes. But I do not forget nor cover over that my eyes are hazel--and sometimes they turn a vivid green.