"Most men lead lives of quiet misery." - Henry David Thoreau
Recently I ran into an old acquaintance. She told me some stuff about her life that I did not know before. It was horrible and I wondered how she had endured it. And never a hint of self-pity or sorrow on her face. Always such a practical person, always bent on doing some kind of community project or the other.
On the way back I was doing the errands and again, I saw someone I recognized. Not exactly an acquaintance, not really a friend, but a familiar face and we've exchanged pleasant conversation several times. This person too has suffered unbelievable pain in her life. But she didn't refer to it this time. I just hugged her. Because I just did.
As a kid I had a manner about me. I really used to piss people off. Especially people in authority. I suppose I was the spiritual child of Emma Goldman, the anarchist and activist who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia. Emma knew what the all-powerful state could do, and she advocated for the right to live and breathe free.
My real mother did not mind that I was a free spirit. But she warned me from a young age that I would run into trouble. You have a gift, she said, and you are easily misunderstood. Be patient with others and don't take it personally when they don't get it.
And when it happened, and I was bullied, I fought back like a cat. I cried bitter tears each time. And I would pick up the phone and call my mother, and she would say, "You are a survivor. You always have been, and you always will be, and you will survive this too."
My husband's mother, may she rest in peace, used to say something similar when you would enter her home and ask how she was. "Well," she would say, "we belong to the survivor's club," as if that were the answer all in itself.
I guess that's why I loved the music of Pat Benatar in the '80s. All of best songs are about survival: "Heartbreaker," "Fire & Ice," "Invincible," "Hell Is For Children," "Shadows Of The Night," "Promises In The Dark," and more. Her music was featured in the movie "The Legend Of Billie Jean," which was in essence a survivor's tale about an underdog.
Life isn't easy for anyone, and all you have to do is spend five minutes with someone to find that out. The question is, who will fall by the wayside, and who will survive intact? Part of that is our decision, and part of that is up to G-d's mercy.
* All opinions my own.