Survivor Guilt to Survivor Gratitude
I didn’t dodge a bullet in a shooting. I wasn’t one of the lone people who lived after a plane or car crash. But I do have a sort of survivor guilt. That’s because I see the rest of the world better than ever before. I see that compared to so many, I am a survivor in this travel through life.
Unlike many of the circumstances media allows us to see, I have been given the resources to survive. I grew up with enough food, shelter, love, education and health care.
I know I’m not alone in the emotion that comes from increasing awareness of the great disparities and inequities in the world. Our parents reminded us of our bounty by telling us about the poor starving children in China. That was the group in the fifties simply because we weren’t aware of the many other places where children were starving. Sadly, they still are.
The dilemma is, how do we live with this awareness and teach our children to approach this world in a balanced way. I want mine to be joyful, contributing, compassionate and aware. I don’t want them so paralyzed by the troubles in the world that they wallow in the face of impossible challenges. I want them to enjoy life and to make the enjoyment of life possible for more people in this world.
Gratitude has two faces, I think. As I step into my warm bed I say a prayer of gratitude for how special that is. I can’t help but think about the lack of this in so many lives. That awareness doesn't need to be a cloud that hangs over every pleasure and benefit in life. Instead it can be a reminder of the need to live a life of balance. To have a good life that includes the practice of bringing good into the lives of others.
I am bothered when I read of people who buy their dogs designer outfits, when so many children don’t even have basic clothing. I enjoy the home renovation shows, but I sort of want to punch the entitled little twits who walk into a beautiful home and complain that there are not two sinks on the bathroom vanity.
How do we enjoy what we have and live out the responsibility to acknowledge the needs of other humans? I can’t say that I have found the perfect balance. It’s a work in progress. To let ourselves be joyful, can perhaps helps us have the spirit and energy to go forward and contribute. There are some who need handbags that cost 1,000 dollars or 50 pairs of shoes before they think they are in a position or with the energy to give. I don’t like them!
Yes, it’s their money, they can do what you want with it. But I honestly believe that there is more joy in buying that 51st pair of shoes for a homeless kid than for one’s own closet.
Among my own efforts at balance, is the habit of small donations. There are two charities who deal with the most desperate in the world and have excellent ratings. When my family is facing a challenge where I feel powerless, I go on line and make a small donation. When something wonderful happens that enriches my life, I go on line and make a small donation.
One year my son had a “difficult” teacher. All my efforts at cooperation and communication did not help, so one charity and the people they helped benefitted significantly. At the end of the year the charity sent a statement for tax purposes. When I saw all the donations of that year, I just sat down and cried over how hard the year had been. But I was comforted that someone else did benefit.
My friend calls it, “Let’s make a deal” with God. Yes, I must admit, I have hoped there might be some Karmic exchange for my efforts. Perhaps what I have received is a sense of peace in being able to do something in the face of difficulty and to feel less powerless. It’s all part of the emerging process -- to feel joy and gratitude and to express that through what I can do to make a small difference in lives where mere survival is a struggle. I don’t see my survivor guilt as a kind of burden. I think instead survivor gratitude, not a burden but a consistent and powerful motivator in the face of so many challenges.