"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A bird will fall frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself."
~ D.H. Lawrence "Self Pity"
So if you've been on any type of social media today, chances are you've heard a great deal of complaining.
The weather is too hot/cold/wet/dry.
I'm too busy.
I'm not busy enough.
I wish I was married.
I wish I was single.
I wish I had a job.
I hate my job.
No one likes me -- I'm lonely.
People won't give me any space.
Wah. Wah. Wah.
And to all that I say - ENOUGH!
While life is full of so many magnificent emotions...self-pity is perhaps the most overused, and the biggest waste of precious precious life.
Am I just being insensitive? If self-pity is part of the human experience, isn't that a good enough reason to indulge?
10 years ago this weekend I was in NYC. My husband (then boyfriend) and I were in a wedding on Long Island, but wanted to make a mini-vacation out of it. We stayed in the Millenium Hilton next to WTC. We spent the 9th walking around the city. He wanted to go up to the top of the towers, but I had already been. We were running low on time (and funds) so we said, "next time."
Clearly, there was no next time. For weeks, I had nightmares. The view out my window had been the towers...it was so vividly etched in my mind that all I could see when I closed my eyes were bodies falling out of those windows, faces on fire that I couldn't help. I would wake up, convinced I smelled smoke on me, nauseated.
We knew people who were affected -- working in the city, but safe. Friends of friends knew someone who died. I was in a job interview when the towers were hit and chaos ensued as people ran around the building, desperately seeking answers to what seemed unreal. My father was due to fly to California that morning, and I remember the dark, aching knot in my stomach until I reached him on the phone. I stayed in that place for awhile. Poor me. It's so scary. Poor us, poor America. Violence isn't supposed to touch us. I don't think I can fly anymore. I don't know if I can trust the person next to me. It's too scary out there. I have too much to lose. Look at how it's hurting me. Poor me.
And this brings me to my problem with self-pity.
When we dive into self pity, we leave no room for compassion. We leave no room to be ALIVE. When we focus on some perceived slight or loss - we miss out on what's really important. If I am busy crying, "Woe is me...I have it soooo bad!" we close our eyes to the needs of others. If we stay in that dark hole of self-pity, we miss out on changing the world. Life is not a competition; we are all on the same team. And none of us gets out alive.
Consider Steve Jobs, who many of us would consider the pinnacle of American Success. Yet he's dying. He can't escape that destination. And rather than crying out about how unfair it is he says this:
"Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
You can choose to stay closed off, cut off from the wildness of an authentic life by self-pity. Or you can be a wild thing, heart always open, fearless, compassionate.
When it comes up (because it will, because our society sings the self-pity song so loudly and so often) let it be a reminder: turn your self over and open your heart.