When I complained, my mother and grandmothers always said something like "look at your plate and eat, and stop looking at other plates."
It was much later in life, as a real adult, that I understood its value as a lesson in life itself, and not merely about food. The grass, as the saying goes, seems greener on the other side.
As we grow older, we experience more and more evidence along those lines, which is why mothers and grandmothers respond that way. I am now old enough to be a grandfather and if a kid whines like how I did, I wouldn't have the patience that elders showed me, and would be temped to yell at the kid for being a whiner!
Consider the case of Junot Díaz.
His short stories in the New Yorker have been some of my favorites. Díaz is only a few years younger than me, and has achieved wide recognition as a writer. from the Pulitzer to the MacArthur genius fellowship, he has stacked up awards that would be the envy of most and not just me.
His plate seems overflowing, compared to mine. If I were a kid, I would complain that life has been unfair to me. But, I know better.
What I didn't know was that his plate did not merely contain all those awards and fellowships. The plate has stuff that nobody would ever want!:
I was raped when I was eight years old. By a grownup that I truly trusted.Oh. My. God!
After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be “in trouble.”
And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again.
I never told anyone what happened, but today I’m telling you.
And anyone else who cares to listen.
As if the repeated rapes weren't enough, the lifelong trauma of it all, which messed up his interactions with people and his ability to have meaningful relationships.
The older I get, the more I understand and realize what a fortunate life I have had. My plate is overflowing. It has always been overflowing.