By: Shannon Ralph
When I was a kid, I thought the world was a fair place. I had no concept of injustice. I believed in fairy tale happy endings. I believed that every girl was a princess, and Prince Charming (Princess Charming?) would always be there to rescue me. On television, I watched Jerry outsmart Tom. The Roadrunner get the best of Wile E. Coyote. Scooby Doo expose the “ghost” for the crook he was. At the Saturday matinee, I cheered as Popeye ate his spinach and saved Swee’pea. I watched in awe as the Force proved itself stronger than the evil Empire. The Ghostbusters beat the indefatigable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. E.T. went home. Good always trumped evil, right? Good things happened to good people. Bad things only happened to bad people. If you wanted something badly enough and worked really hard, anything could be yours, right? That is the way the world seemed to work.
As I grew into adulthood, I realized that my simplistic ideas about right and wrong and good and bad were just that. Simplistic. Good things happen to bad people all the time. And—despite my desperate wishes to the contrary—bad things happen to good people.
Never have I experienced a year in my life that hammered that message home to me more so than this past year. So many good people. So many bad things. It all began last summer when my sister was forced to give birth to her stillborn daughter. Then my mother left her husband and—after raising four kids on her own with next to nothing—had to depend on government support to merely survive. She struggles day to day to make it. To remain hopeful about the future. Then my dear uncle, Chris, fell ill and died all too quickly from lung cancer, leaving behind a family who adored him. My cousin is in the hospital in Kentucky as I write this battling for her life after years of drug addiction that ravaged her body. She is only 38 years old. She has two kids that are being raised by their grandmother. Children who have grown up knowing their mother only as a drug addict. Children who, along with their grandmother, must watch helpless as my cousin’s mistakes catch up with her. And yesterday, I found out that my other sister lost the baby she and her partner had been dreaming of for years. They have a two-year-old, and have been trying desperately since his birth to have another. Their dream was finally realized, only to fizzle again a few weeks in. Age is not on their side. It’s not fair. They are amazing parents. They deserve to have all the children they want. Other people are throwing children out every day. People who are unfit to parent—drug addicts like my cousin—have no problem bringing children into this world they do not need. And do not want. Why can’t good people have the children they so desperately desire? Where is my sister’s fairy tale?
And then there is me. I sit in my comfortable home. A home I own, not rent. Surrounded by three healthy and happy children. I love my partner. I go to work every day at a job I enjoy and that pays me relatively well. I enjoy financial security. I am certainly not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but unlike so many in this world, I usually do not have to worry about how I will pay my bills. I do not have to worry about how I am going to feed my children dinner. I have everything in the world that is good and treasured and joyous. But I feel the ephemerality of it all.
Will you all do me a favor? It may sound stupid. I apologize in advance for speaking in bumper sticker-isms. But will you hug your kids today? Tell them you love them. Put aside petty arguments about money or household chores or who fills up the stupid ice trays and kiss your partner today. Look around your home and thank God—or nature or the universe or whatever you believe in—for the bountifulness you have. For the beauty and joy and love in your life. For all those who ever supported you. For all those who stood by you and allowed you to become the person you are today. For everything you have been given—by no travail of your own—for simply being born in the richest country in the world.
I am feeling sad about the losses of those I love today. But also grateful. And humble. Everything I have was given to me. I did nothing to earn it. Just as the wonderful people in my life did nothing to deserve the sadness they are now enduring. From this point on, I will make it my life’s goal to truly appreciate everything I have. Will you do the same?