26 December 2009

No Time To Criticise, Not Having the Luxury of Gloom

When I was a kid, if someone had asked me to define the word "gloom," I might have said that it was a cold rain on the day after Christmas. That's exactly how today has been; in fact, it seems to have been this way since some time after I got home last night.

I'm not feeling gloomy, though. I realize I haven't much reason to be gloomy, really. In particular, two recent experiences are helping to keep my outlook on life from being defined by the gray rain and chill that have held this day in their grip.

Those two experiences are, ironically enough, two that seem unrelated: my surgery and the time I spent in the soup kitchen. In the latter experience, every single person I met was facing something more difficult than I'm facing at this moment. As for the former: Well, after getting what you've always needed in order to feel complete, how can you walk through life under a dark cloud?

That's not to say, of course, that you never become sad, frustrated, lonely or angry. They become simply individual tones on a scale, or hues in a spectrum, of emotions. (Perhaps you can come up with better metaphors. But you get the idea, I'm sure.) As best as I can tell, no emotion, positive or negative, is meant to be experienced continuously. That's old news, but it doesn't hurt to remind myself of it.

Anyway...I can think of all sorts of reasons why I don't experience, sans interruption, the discontent that seemed like an inevitable condition of being who I am, if not simply being, during my youth.

One reason might simply be that, as I've aged, I've gained some perspective. That's to be expected, I suppose. But I think that an even more important reason is that I simply don't have the time to wallow in despair, or even boredom. When you think about it, boredom is almost a luxury. And, as a corollary to that, that kind of blue feeling that seemed almost fashionable to me when I was young is now an indulgence, as alcohol and other drugs are.

Someone, I forget who, once told me to be so busy improving myself, or just learning something useful, that I don't have time to criticise other people. That's just starting to make sense to me now. So many negative emotions I've had began with my resentment or jealousy of someone else. Those, of course, are the reasons why we spend time criticising people we can't change. Why does so-and-so get away with being an asshole? Why did she get the guy--or why did he get the girl? (I've asked both questions!) When we start thinking about those kinds of questions, we become paranoid, which is nothing more than the feeling of powerlessness turning into a martyrdom complex. How did she, of all people, get that promotion? She must have slept with the boss. I would never do such a thing. I guess I'm too good to make it in this world.

That gloom in which I used to wallow is, then, a pure, unadulterated form of narcissism. Criticising other people made me better than them, in my mind. It made me so good--again, im my own mind-- that I was doomed. And you know what rhymes with "doom."

Now that I am learning how to live without the convenience I once had, I am finding that the luxuries that came with it weren't always so wonderful. One such luxury is having nothing better to do than to criticise someone else and, from there, to spiral into all-encompassing anger and despair. Some anger may be necessary to reclaim one's self. But the trick, at least for me, has been to keep it from becoming the quicksand of self-pity. How many more years do I get to learn that?