Life isn’t fair

Life isn’t fair

As I gaze at the photo above, I cannot know if these little boys were merely having fun or this was how they managed to eat. They look clean and decently dressed, so perhaps it was a game. Who can come up with the best treasure? I hope it was all in fun, but the neighborhood was poor. I will never know.

A number of years ago, when I was a white belt in karate, there was an instructor who would get us all into push-up position, and while we held our bodies up by our palms or fists or fingertips—whichever push-ups we were doing that day—he would give a brief discourse  beginning with “life isn’t fair.”

 Of course, no discourse feels brief when one is holding a push-up position. I took this instructor’s class many times until I myself began to teach, and I began as an assistant in this man’s classes. By this time, those words were permanently implanted in my mind, “life isn’t fair. This was a good thing, as I somehow believed that I was entitled to certain things in my life. Time and repetition were necessary for me to realize that this was never the case. I was never entitled to a good life, nor did I especially deserve one. No more than any other human being on this earth.

Pushing onward

In graduate school at Yeshiva University in New York City, Pat was my best friend. She had grown up and lived in poverty. She spent her work life with poor addicts in an inner-city clinic. I grew up middle class. I also worked in inner-city clinics, but after a few years, I graduated into private practice. We both worked hard to get where we were, but Pat was always humble. When life hit her hard, she took a few breaths and pushed onward. When life hit me hard, I complained bitterly. Eventually, I too, got up and pushed onward.

Over the years, we met for meals and various occasions. We tried to keep our friendship going as best we could. Before I moved to New Mexico, and we said goodbye, Pat was scheduled for surgery. She had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Pat was a fighter, and her doctor adored her. He got her into every trial of medication and new procedure he thought might be helpful. He kept her alive for 15 years, unheard of with ovarian cancer in those days.

I went to visit her at her home in New Jersey after she had to leave her job due to her failing health. The apartment where she lived was in terrible need of repair. Her husband was loving and kind, but at this point, he had been out of work for a number of years. I had to wonder what would become of him after she passed. He was so clearly dependent on her. Pat had raised two beautiful sons, and it felt to me as if her husband was yet another one. She attended to everyone, including me.

Never quitting

Pat took care of me in graduate school. When I would protest various requirements that I found foolish or was unable to find articles in the library that we were assigned to read, I would whisper to her (inside the library), “I’m quitting.” Then we would leave the library, and I would yell, “I’m quitting!” I might even curse the social work program several times. But the time I will always remember was when she said, pleadingly, almost with tears in her eyes, “You can’t leave me here alone. I won’t stand for it. I’m not even Jewish!” Since we both knew I would never actually quit, we dropped all of our books and laughed so hard that we had to go back in to use the bathroom. Pat was humble, but Pat was tough.

So why am I still here when she is gone? Why do I have the incredible life I’ve been blessed with when hers was cut short? Why did I get orthopedic surgeries when she got cancer? Why are people suffering and dying at our borders and around the world while I can make a decision as to what I will eat, when I will eat, and exactly how much. If I had the answers to these questions, I would not be asking them almost on a daily basis. The only answer I can muster is “life isn’t fair.” And yet, that hardly seems sufficient.

The author with her best friend, Pat, in the hospital waiting room.

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