Thursday, August 26, 2010

Misery and its company

I've been enjoying the news stories and pictures today of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's birth. Thinking of Mother Teresa and her life's work always reminds me that her work took her among the truly poor: the desperate, the destitute, the sick, the dying, those suffering in ways which we Americans can't really even imagine, for the most part.

It is true that some types of suffering are universal. There is poverty in America, even if it's not the sort that is seen on the streets of some third-world nations' cities. There is pain and sickness and dying and death--these are part of the universal human condition. There are many forms of spiritual anguish, too, and Mother Teresa often spoke about that kind of poverty, which afflicts wealthy nations more so than poor ones.

But in pondering these things, I also couldn't help but think of the many times when I've complained about something in my life, as if what were really minor inconveniences were somehow productive of actual suffering, instead of a sort of trivial misery. And somehow, I don't think I'm the only person out there who does this--complaining is sort of a national pastime of Americans.

For myself, it's almost as though at certain times I take on the persona of a woman who actually enjoys being miserable, who then calls the shots around here until I decide I've had enough. Granted, I'm being whimsical, but I bet if I describe these personas at least a few of you out there will recognize at least one of them who somehow shows up in your house from time to time:

Ursula Untidy: Ursula has a terrible habit of ignoring clutter accumulation until it reaches lethal levels. Then, she springs into action and...complains about it. Loudly. Vociferously. To anyone who will listen. Ursula will sometimes spend all afternoon telling her friends or family via phone, email, and at least one other form of social media what a wreck her house is, and how long it's going to take her to clean it all up. It's going to take especially long if Ursula is followed by...

Nadia Never-delegate: Nadia apparently believes that she is the Only One Who Ever Does Anything Around Here--but then, Nadia also believes that everyone else does everything wrong so that she's just going to have to do it all again herself anyway, and what's wrong with people that they don't just pitch in even though any attempt by them to pitch in is probably going to be laughed to scorn by Nadia who will use the opportunity to berate them for having lived in the same house for umpteen gazillion years and not yet learning that she likes the small kitchen towels on the yellow shelf, which (if Nadia were honest) used to be a) blue, b) the place for the large kitchen towels, and c) covered for the last month not with small towels but with several books Nadia was reading which she finally put away yesterday. Nadia should not be confused with her twin Manipula the Martyr, whose cleaning efforts are punctuated by loud sighs and sarcastic cries of "No, don't anybody bother to help me, I'm fine doing everything." Nadia should also not be confused with her more public cousin...

Camilla of the Committee: Camilla believes that there is no parish group, school group, homeschool group, fundraising drive, or other activity in her sphere that can function without her. Even though she believes this, Camilla is also scornful of those who don't sign up and volunteer to do as much as she is doing--they may be totally incompetent, but at least they could offer to help. As much as she complains about others not helping, Camilla equally complains about how terribly, terribly busy she is and how desperately she needs some time off from all of her volunteer activities. These complaints don't stop her from being first in line to sign up for the parish's new building fund drive, though--after all, how can she trust the building plans to be what she'd want, if she's not involved? Camilla has a lot in common with...

Inez the Insane-scheduler: Once upon a time, Inez's family had sane extracurricular activities--perhaps some sports here or music or art there. Somehow, though, it all got way, way out of hand, to the point where Inez's children know the drive-thru menus of eight different fast-food chains by heart and have become very good at doing their schoolwork or homework in the car. Inez will complain to anybody who will listen about how terribly mad and disruptive it all is--and then, in the next breath, she will mention that little Johnny is really rather keen on the arts of the Turkish culture, and there are these two really neat classes on different weekdays in wildly divergent parts of town, one on meerschaum-pipe crafting and the other on water marbling, both of which she's signed him up for. Inez has some similarities to...

Elmira Empty-shelf: Elmira's friends and family have told her repeatedly about the joys of list-based grocery shopping. Elmira shrugs, and nods, but continues her enduring habit of listless (in more ways than one) shopping. The result of this is that Elmira is nearly always out of something, necessitating extra trips to the grocery store, calls to her husband to swing by a store on his way home from work, and the postponement of homeschool science projects until she remembers to pick up pipe cleaners, a two-liter plastic bottle, some potting soil and a detonator coil (kidding about the last). Elmira is always complaining about these extra trips to the store--but will she break down and make a list? Probably not; and if it's laundry soap she's out of, she may turn into...

Luella Laundry-laden: Luella always, always, always has way too much laundry to do, with no real excuse for it (that is, she doesn't have a dozen or so children and one washing machine and no dryer). Luella's way of catching up on the laundry is to...complain about it. Or leave it on the bed, waiting to be folded, while she writes a blog post. :)

What all of these personas have in common is that they are all willing to complain about things that, in all honesty, are their own faults. As someone who has hosted most (though not all) of these personas before, I can say that if I am behind on the laundry for any reason other than rampaging illness sweeping through the family, it's because I've let other, less important things be my priority for too long. When I shop without a grocery list, it is my fault if I forget that we were almost out of butter until after we get home--and so on for the other personas on the list.

But I know I have a tendency to complain about all of the effects of these things as if I were a victim of circumstances--until I take a look at some images of the real victims, the ones Mother Teresa's nuns still serve all over the world today. There is nothing like beholding the real image of suffering to make you feel foolish for complaining about some unfolded laundry, is there?

3 comments:

Lauretta said...

Do you live in my house and I just haven't noticed?!

Red Cardigan said...

Lauretta--:) !

It's funny how universal some of these things are. ;)

The Cottage Child said...

I knew it, the song was about me - I AM every woman...except, of course, Mother Teresa. *sigh*

Very nice examples of the women who live around here - thanks, I think?