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{February 22, 2014}   Survival Lessons

Survival Lessons

Survival Lessons

A friend recently recommended this book to me. I like Alice Hoffman‘s writing very much, so I got it out of the library.

I like to read thought-provoking or spiritual  materials in the morning. In the preface, Alice Hoffman describes her book as a guidebook for going through a life crisis; in her case, being diagnosed and fighting breast cancer. She said she wanted to write the book that she was looking for at that time, but couldn’t find.

It took me 1 hour to read: the time it took me to have two cups of tea and a couple of pieces of toast, so in effect, I devoured it. I would definitely recommend it as a “breakfast time book.” As I read it,  I could think of many friends I would love to give it to, people with loved ones going through battles with the big C. All of that being said, when I finished it, I thought, “If she wasn’t already a successful writer, this book wouldn’t have been published.” Not because it was wasn’t worthwhile, but because it was so simple. Some thoughts about life thrown together (not in a bad way), like having a good conversation over breakfast with a friend or reading some of the well-written blogs out there, complete with uplifting quotes and pictures. The reviews were quite good, if you would like to read them, but this is not a review…it is where my mind went after reading the book.

Every day I feel like I’m learning my own survival lessons, though I’m not going through a crisis of Alice Hoffman’s magnitude. Perhaps if I was, I would have gotten more out of it. I have been sick all week and I have been struggling through each day, unable to take a day off. Ok, I admit I was feeling some self-pity. I don’t have anyone to take care of me, and I live so on the edge financially that illness means a lot of money spent that I don’t have. It is a minor disaster to have to buy kleenex and medicine.

As I walked into the lady’s room with a coworker yesterday, I complained a little. She said, “what you need to do is talk to someone who is worse off than you.” Now, I have been told that before…and yes, sometimes it does the trick. But at what point does being surrounded by people with disasters in their lives make you suffer survivor guilt or give you a vision that life just contains too much pain and too little joy? A bit later I overheard her talking with her daughter on the phone and I knew she was suffering her own problems. I got up from my chair and went over to her, “That person worse off than me that you were talking about…was that you?” I said. Her eyes teared up, she gave me a quick synopsis and I gave her a hug.

A little bit later I had a conversation with another coworker who is in the process of finding out whether the cancer she just had removed is anywhere else in her body. She is extremely anxious about it, which is understandable, and I feel for her.

I said, “Ok God, I got the message,” and I shut my mouth because I didn’t deserve to complain. But I do have some bones to pick with the “do what you want to do” attitude portrayed in positive message blogs and in “Survival Lessons.”

Alice Hoffman recommends a lot of things in her book, one of which is to go on a trip to someplace wonderful: she chose Venice. And where does a normal person who is surviving one day at a time get the money to finance such a trip?? The people in crisis I know are lucky if they can pay their mortgage or afford their medical procedures. If I thought I was going to die soon, would I spend my retirement money? Yes. But, my grandmothers lived to be 102 and 96; unless the unforeseen happens, I have to be responsible and prepared to be able to take care of myself for many years to come, so a big “dream” trip is not reality for me.

I see people post wonderful blogs about doing all the things you want to do. I applaud them for doing what makes them happy, but I’m not a risk-taker so I’m not going to jump out of an airplane, and to be honest, I have no desire to. Even watching the skiers and snowboarders at the Olympics do the crazy things they do, gives me the shivers. So how does someone who doesn’t have big dreams or financial means celebrate life?

In very small, not particularly exciting ways. I enjoy walking, reading, blogging and playing with my cats. I am glad to say I have times when I feel content. But when I see others actually getting “excited” about things, I think I’m doing something wrong. I have convinced myself I don’t need much and really want for nothing, which is healthy, but is it real? I sometimes miss my younger days when a new CD or going to a show made me gush. Nowadays I don’t think anything is important enough to keep me from getting my sleep (including the Olympics).

So… “Survival Lessons,” I think I have achieved a passing grade: I am surviving. I have learned to appreciate each day in a quiet and grateful way, but sometimes I ask myself, am I living?

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bluebee says:

A really thought-provoking post, Sue. A good friend, who I feel lives rather a charmed life, recently complained very publicly about something that has resulted entirely from her own choices. And I hate to admit that I felt uncharitably irritated by and dismissive of it. But I really don’t think it would be fair of me to say to her what your co-worker did to you. Joy and happiness are relative – as life throws down the gauntlet, things that used to matter no longer do – it’s the “hierarchies of needs” theory. And we are all in different places and have different concepts of needs. So while we don’t have to respond to others’ complaints if we think they are trivial, I don’t believe we have a right to voice our judgement of them, unsolicited. Like you, I have worries, don’t get hugely excited about much, but am mostly content with my life, and thoroughly enjoy passing my leisure time immersed in my interests. For me that’s living contentedly with my available resources regardless of how others might view it.

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sued51 says:

Thank you for your very well-written and thoughtful comment, BB. I didn’t think that much of my coworker saying that to me because people do that to me all the time. My mom says it is because I am an empath and a good listener. People expect me to listen to them because I do and respond accordingly. People with children think I don’t have problems because I don’t have children, but they don’t understand that I have don’t have the joy they get from their children either. Everything is a trade-off. We all make our choices and have to live with them. And yes, Maslow’s hierarchy comes into play.The last few years I have been reduced to worrying about the bottom of the pyramid, so new CDs etc are not needs. That being said, I live by Roosevelt’s quote: “Do what you can with what you have where you are,” and most of the time I am glad to be content. I don’t have high expectations of life anymore. I’m conflicted about that: on the one hand I think it is good; on the other, I think it is rather sad that I no longer have “aspirations.”

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Jo Bryant says:

So very I first broke my back, I have had times of self pity. When I railed against th restrictions that placed on me. I have also had days where I got angry at myself be cause others were worse off. But I think we have to be tender to what and how we feel as those feelings are relevant to who we are. I agree with you about some of the ideas in some of these books. All well and good in theory, but real life for many isn’t about taking a trip because we have everyday bills to pay.

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sued51 says:

“…But I think we have to be tender to what and how we feel as those feelings are relevant to who we are.” Such an important lesson, Jo, that I am just learning…

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