I don’t always say it out loud, but I think it every once in a while. “Why me? What did I do to deserve __________ ?” You can fill in the blank with your own particular burden.
Funny thing: even though it looks like a question, it’s not really a question. It’s a lament, an existential moan. I don’t expect an answer. What I want is sympathy; someone to wallow with me in my gushing well of self-pity.
Imagine my shock, then, when shortly after I’d muttered these words one day, a total stranger looks me in the eye and says, “Seriously? Get over yourself, Alicia.”
Well, truthfully, the stranger didn’t say my name, and he couldn’t see me since I was standing in the middle of my living room and he was in a TV studio somewhere. Still, the 30-year-old man with deep brown eyes got my full attention halfway through the documentary program on cancer.
The young man was a neurosurgeon who, in a cruel twist of fate, had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor a few weeks before. He had, at best, six months to live. I’d been half-watching the program when the host began the interview with questions about his career, his wife, and his twin boys, age 4. But when she asked him, “Do you ever say to yourself, ‘Why me?’ ” I stopped what I was doing and looked up.
The camera zoomed in on the neurosurgeon’s face. I expected to see an array of complex emotions playing across that intelligent, youthful face: pain, self-pity, anger, regret. Instead, he looked perplexed.
“No, of course not,” he answered. The camera stayed glued to his face as he gazed steadily back. Off camera, we heard the flummoxed host protest, “But...I mean, you’re in the prime of —”
“Look,” the surgeon interrupted, “I didn’t ask ‘why me’ when I got into med school. I didn’t ask ‘why me’ when I met the amazing woman who became my wife. I didn’t ask ‘why me’ when I held my newborn sons in my arms for the first time. Why should I ask that now?”
In the silence that followed, the only word in my head was “Touché.”
That surgeon, who is surely in paradise now, took some of the punch out of my favorite lamentation. But I suppose that’s not a bad thing.
Alicia (Arellano) von Stamwitz is an award-winning freelance author and longtime editor with the religious press whose exclusive interviews and profiles of today's most influential spiritual leaders are published internationally (http://www.aliciavonstamwitz.com/). She served as one of our regular contributors through the first year of the "Monks in Our Midst" series.
Consider: Do you ever say or think, “Why me?” What helps you move past self-pity?
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Monks in Our Midst: writings by monks from the 3rd to the 21st centuries.