It was 10th grade. I had just broken up with the “love of my life” and I was sobbing in my bathroom. I remember crying out to God to explain to me how someone I cared about “so deeply” could betray me by wanting to break up with me. I felt like I couldn’t go on living. It was all very dramatic.
While I was sobbing over the loss of my high school boyfriend millions of other people were having an even worse day. Some were having heart attacks. Some were starving to death. Some were burying their children way too young. Some were being brutalized, tortured, and raped. Some were being kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets. Somewhere a small child was sobbing because their mom or dad had been killed on their way home from work.
So what did I have to complain about? I had a roof over my head, my parents took good care of me, and I was well fed. I had a car, friends, and I was the star of my junior varsity basketball team. (Well, one of the stars anyway). But I felt like my life was over.
It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the value of perspective. I was in college, my last semester, and I was working hard on my grades so that my graduate school application would be accepted. I needed an A on my Sociology exam in order to get an A in the class. When I got my paper back and saw the B+, I freaked out and panicked. My doom descended upon me. How was I ever going to get into grad school with those kind of grades?! I remember being all upset, I remember my friends trying to comfort me, I remember walking to my next class (Sensation and Perception) which started just 10 minutes later. I remember walking into class and seeing a different professor. She waited until we were all seated and told us that our regular professor, Dr. Wilsoncroft, had died over the weekend. Apparently, he’d suffered a heart attack at home and no one even knew it for 3 days.
The thought of that poor man being home alone, with no family, no wife, no kids, and just dying on the couch… no one missed him… no one knew he was even dead… it shook me. The teacher told us that it was the smell of his decaying body that alerted his neighbors to his death. I felt so sorry for my professor and I burst into tears. I also noticed that most of the other students were more concerned with how this would affect their grades than that a wonderful and kindly professor had died alone and seemingly uncared for.
I remember looking back at the B+ on my paper and thinking what a fool I was. How selfish. Here I was so concerned over a stupid grade in one class and a man had just died horribly alone. I realized that it didn’t matter whether I knew the person or not, somewhere in the world there was someone out there who would give anything to switch places with me. In Africa there was a starving child who would trade places with me in an instant. In a jail cell somewhere an innocent man was being tortured and would give anything to switch places with me and have my problems.
And that’s where I learned perspective. Now when something bad happens to me I say to myself, “Hey, it could be worse. If this is the worst thing that happens to me in my life, I would be grateful.” It shifts my emotional state immediately. Sometimes I even feel blessed to have the problems that I have; I think of all the things going right in my life. Roof over my head, food on my table, a loving family, etc.
The next time you’re having a bad day think about all the people in the world who would gladly switch places with you. And be grateful you have the life you have.