Soooo... it was early-mid 1990's. I had recently broken up with BeerMan, and I was depressed. Actually, I was angry, I was hurt, and I was still digging myself out of the financial hole that the relationship had left in its wake. The truth is, I was feeling very sorry for myself.
It just didn't seem fair. All around me were seemingly happy people who had big apartments, or houses even, and jobs that didn't require them to stay until 10:30 at night, and nice clothing, and money to take lavish vacations, and who got to eat out as much as they wanted, and who seemingly "had it made."
priceless benefits woefully absent in the typical American life... but it's sort of hard to convince yourself of things like that when you're busy playing woe is me.
Anyhow, it was late, and I stopped by the all night grocery store on my way home from work. While there, I happened to pick up a copy of our little neighborhood freebie newspaper. Little did I know that my life was about to change in a pretty fundamental way.
So, I got home, and I was thumbing through the paper, when I noticed an article about a young couple who had recently immigrated from Russia... or is it emigrated? well, whatever. At the time Russian immigrants were quite the novelty, so I suppose that's why the story was viewed as newsworthy.
As I read the article, the giant iceberg of self pity inside of me began to melt into torrents of shame.
I wish I had saved a copy of the article, because it turned out to be fairly life-altering for me, but alas, we'll have to rely upon my memory.
So here we have our young Russian couple. They are living in a tiny studio apartment in a fairly rough section of town, they are both working minimum wage fast food jobs, they have no car, no television, no telephone, no paid vacation time, and yet they cannot believe their incredible good fortune.
They talked about how back in Russia they never could have hoped to have had their own apartment, at least not for many, many years. And they felt as if they were living like kings because chicken leg quarters were so cheap that they could actually afford to eat meat several times per week, something that was unheard of back in their home country.
I looked around me at my 275 square foot apartment, and suddenly, it didn't seem so small.
I remembered back about 10 years earlier when I was still in high school, I played in a local youth orchestra, and a few of our members had been chosen to travel to Russia in one of the very first cultural exchange programs between our countries back in the mid 1980's when Glasnost was still in its infancy.
My orchestra-mates had brought with them some photos of their homes and some magazines. When the Russians saw the pictures of their typical suburban houses, they wanted to know how many families lived there. And when they saw the magazines, what captivated them was an advertisement for a refrigerator, because it contained a photo of an open fridge overflowing with fresh food... and they couldn't believe that anyone could actually afford such luxuries.
It suddenly occurred to me that I really had it made... and I wasn't even trying! In fact, I had done just about everything in my power to shun "success" and still, here I was living the proverbial Life of Riley.
But when it comes right down to it... what do we really, truly need? It seems to me that once you sweep away all of the clutter and the BS, all we really need is clean water, healthy food, shelter, clothing, loving companionship, and access to health care... and that's pretty much it. Everything else is either a luxury or just plain old excess.
Somehow, reading that article made that all come into crystal clear focus for me. And once I began to recognize the luxuries that surrounded me on a daily basis, I simply couldn't help but be overwhelmed by a sense of incredible gratitude. All I had to do was open my eyes to the abundance that was already flowing through my life.
So every time I start to think that my life is hard or somehow not fair, all I have to do is think about that young couple from Russia, and it sets me straight pretty darned quick.
I consider this knowledge to be an incredible gift.
For the next post in this series click here.