The problem is not the phrase itself, but that I never believed it. Not when we repeated it at bible camp and not when I recited it to myself at all the weddings the summer after Chris and I broke up.
I first learned the phrase from one of the traveling evangelists that came to summer camp. Miss Nadyne liked to employ the “repeat after me” technique a lot. When someone won a prize or got to volunteer on stage with one of her hunky sons, we all had to acknowledge our joy at their good fortune.
“Repeat after me! I get happy…”
“I get happy.”
“When other people get blessed.”
“When other people get blessed.”
We spoke tightening our fists, straining out the words through clenched teeth as we watched that random girl with the striped shorts get ushered onto the stage to participate in the Bible version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” We watched her squander the gift; we would have used it better.
This phrase resurfaces in my mind when I’m not happy that other people got blessed. Not even close. Not even a little. Like today.
Well, it started yesterday. I fell in love with a 1950’s record player and stereo console at an estate sale near my parent’s house, and I fell hard. I melted at the gleaming finish and all the intact parts. I created a narrative about the old grandpa that lived there, that he was the type of man who took good care of his things.
I imagined Drew and I listening to records on summer days with the windows open, breeze accompanying the crackles of the needle against the vinyl. I believed that it worked, I had faith; certain of what I hoped for and assurance of what I did not see.
So today, with the promise of a half-off sale and the conviction that I had to have it, I marched into the estate sale to bring home my dream record player.
I joked with Drew about worst-case scenarios, something I don’t recommend in retrospect. I anticipated an empty spot where it used to sit, I imagined finding it with a sharpied “SOLD” sign across its front, but I was not prepared for someone just “looking” at it, considering it, fiddling with my record player to see if it worked.
I didn’t anticipate a man with a scowl and a beer gut weighing whether it was worth the hassle of fixing it.
He didn’t care about the man’s carefully organized woodshop in the basement or comment on how many times the console had been faithfully polished. His mouth didn’t gape open at the beauty of the find; his heart didn’t race at the sliding top.
Instead, he talked with his woman partner about whether it would fit in his Dodge Charger.
Drew and I awaited their verdict seated in the velour chairs in the living room. We watched the couple poke and prod at my baby. We found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the unspoken rules and politics of estate sales: you get dibs on what you stand by and clasp in your hands, no holds, cash only, winner takes it all.
They weren’t sure if the console was “worth it.” They whispered about us and called us “those people.” $100 cash in hand, we watched them hem and haw and measure the trunk of the Charger.
I watched the lady partner sneak out to get cash from the bank, and the man with the beer gut state his intention quietly to the teenage daughter of the estate sale host running the cashbox.
And then it was over.
And Meredith wept.
Not a little bit, a lot bit. Body shaking, gasps for air, ugly-crying, splotchy face, snorts, snot, everything. In public.
In that moment I mourned the record console, but not just the record console. I mourned it all, the last two weeks, the last month, the whole year; the job I didn’t get when I was one of 2 candidates, my puffy lip and scar, my mom’s cancer, the silence of everyone I submitted writing to, the success of others, and the general feeling that God was taking everything good away from me.
I stomped my foot and craned my neck to the sky,
“ITS NOT FAIR!”
And in the back of my mind, that trite little phrase, the magic words of gratefulness sang,
“I get happy when other people get blessed.”
I started thinking about the article my friend Briana had recently linked about scarcity, the idea that there is a limited amount of good things in the world, and someone else getting them means that I can’t have them.
Obviously this proves true at times in the day to day–some things do run out. Like that specific record console, the last bit of cake in the fridge, or natural resources (well that’s another post).
But usually scarcity rears its head when we feel that someone got something that we deserved or at least wanted very badly, and because they clinched it, said it, got the part, published it, won it, achieved it, made the team–we can’t have it.
The thing we have been climbing uphill to summit, pouring our waking thoughts into, and secretly hoped would finally make us happy falls into someone else’s lap unbidden. We see them flounder the good thing, not realizing its worth.
Once the speck-sized cancer takes root, it invades the blood stream and takes over the nervous system. One small thought begets one smaller still, and the small thoughts start reproducing like rabbits.
Our eyes train towards the faults of those getting what we believe is rightfully ours; we notice the clashing colors of coral at their wedding, the unfunny moment in their improv show, and read their work looking for sloppy metaphors.
We place ourselves in direct competition with one another.
What a waste. What a complete waste.
In her post, Abby Norman challenges us to respond to scarcity with generosity.
So today, instead of trying to speak little rhymes and sayings over my gathered collection of jealousies and greed, I first sat in it for a moment. I acknowledged to myself what I was feeling and took in the ugly little jealousy monster I had become. Just a really nasty hideous small little thing.
Then I chose to go forth into the world, at least for today, and give to others what I wanted so desperately—love, success, help, support, approval, praise, and just a whole lot of Facebook likes.
I went nuts on Facebook. I said yes to everything. Every page I had ever been invited to like, even ones that were for events that took place two years ago, liked ‘em. Brag statuses, joke statuses, “I had a hard day and want attention” statuses, trying to be poetic statuses, pretending I don’t go on Facebook that much statuses—liked ‘em.
Why are we so withholding of our approval? There is enough to go around because we create it, we have to choose to live it, we control its scarcity.
I started liking things in real life too. I told a girl in my improv class how witty she was, I started a blogger’s guild and invited some college classmates whose blogs I admire, and yes, at times have been jealous of.
I don’t get happy when other people get blessed. Well sometimes I do, but on the usual day, I cry and feel bad about myself, trying to calculate what piece of the pie I deserve. But instead of trying to recite the magic words, I am going to press into the idea that I believe in an abundant life, one where I have been given an eternal and perfect love and a bigger piece of the pie than I ever deserved.
And then, even if I stomp all the way up the stairs to do it, I am going to like statuses on Facebook, congratulate my talented friends, start new things, and believe that there is enough on the dinner table for all of us. I don’t have to shovel all the good things in my mouth before others get to them.
Maybe, over time, generosity will be my first response. Love will take over my blood stream and stretch itself to the ends of my nervous system, and joy will reproduce like bunny rabbits.
Until then, will you help me? Love need not be scarce.
Title Photo Credit: Peter Thompson