Sunday, December 28, 2008

Problem Vs. Inconvenience

Get ready for a rant.

I normally don't get too serious on this venue; thus the name. But I need to vent. I always seem to need to vent when I spend large amounts of time with my in-laws. So I dedicate this entry and the soapbox that goes with it to them.

When I was a teenager, I read an article that profoundly affected my views. I read it in Readers Digest, of all places. The author related a story about his youth when he worked on a ranch. The cook for the hands on the ranch was an old timer who didn't say much. Well, this young man, after coming in from working hard all day, doing back breaking manual labor in the hot sun stomped inside and knew that if he was going to be served pork and beans for dinner for the fifth time in a row, he'd explode. As soon as he entered the mess hall, the smell of that dinner hit him full in the face. He began complaining loudly as he brought his plate up to the old cook about how they were having pork and beans yet again. As he took a breath to continue his diatribe, the old man, with his thick accent, looked up and quietly asked him a question.

"Is this a problem, or an inconvenience?"

The younger man was taken aback because the cook barely said anything to anyone, ever. But here he was, looking him directly in the eye and questioning him. The young cowboy didn't know what to say, but the old man did.

He told a story of a young boy who lived behind high fences topped with barbed wire, just like the cattle the cowboy tended, except the boy and all the people inside the fence were treated even worse than livestock. He told of fighting rats to wrestle the rotten food away from them so the boy could consume it, of watching everyone around him turn gray and weak, of the big men coming to beat and tear away the people inside the fence from each other. He told of smoke rising from chimneys. Smoke so foul that it laid on your skin like an infection and choked the life from you just by its presence. He told of the boy watching every single person in his family die a slow and dehumanizing death by malnourishment, mistreatment, disease and worst of all - apathy.

The old cook pushed up the sleeve of his tattered flannel shirt and showed the young cowboy the blue tattoo on his arm of numbers blurred by the passing of time, revealing that he, himself, was the boy from the story. He then asked the cowboy again.

"Is having pork and beans served to you every night for a week a problem or an inconvenience?"

The story not only gave the author new perspective, but also myself. The AIDS epidemic in Africa is a problem. Women in the Middle East being stoned to death because they were raped is a problem. Bride burning in India is a problem. Global warming is a problem. Sex trafficking is a problem. Children being conscripted into armies torn by civil war in Africa is a problem. Suicide bombers are a problem.

Having your parents ask if you would like to have heirlooms from their family is not a problem. Having to buy a fourth TV for the kitchen is not a problem. Your teenage daughter wanting to talk on the phone to her boyfriend is not a problem. Not being able to pack all the new presents from the holiday to take back to your house is not a problem. Having to listen to High School Musical is not a problem. Those, and a lot more like them, are inconveniences.

Suck it up and quit complaining. There is always someone who's had it worse than you. If you don't believe that, do one or all of the following:

1. Read Night by Eli Wiesel.
2. Read A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer.
3. Read Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
4. Watch U571.
5. Watch Saving Private Ryan.
6. Watch Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
7. Watch Hotel Rwanda.
8. Visit a women's shelter.
9. Visit a homeless shelter.
10. Visit a VA hospital.
11. Visit the pediatric wing of your local hospital.

I could go on, but dear readers, I've ranted you to death, and I'm sure you're not guilty of the above. Come back in a few days. I'm sure I'll be perkier since my in -laws will soon be going back to where they came from. I leave with this parting thought that I'm using as my mantra for when I go back to the house where all the in-laws are in just a few short hours. Everyone is going through their own battles. Try and be patient, even if they're only inconveniences and not real problems.


Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I am humbled. Thank you.

Ava Quinn said...

Like I said, not aimed at you. Just needed to vent.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Oh, I know that! But it's a good reminder nonetheless.

And it offered a sympathetic picture of what you must be dealing with. I hope it's over/almost over!

Maureen Greenbaum said...

My husband (of 40 years) and I too were really affected by that old Reader’s Digest story. When things aren’t going our way, we recall it and say is this really a problem or just and inconvenience. We even contacted Reader’s Digest to locate the story, but it is too long ago, well before everything was digitized (which could turn out to be a real privacy problem, but that’s another blog). We have Googled “problem inconvenience tattoo” many times and your entry finally showed up. Thanks and tell us if you ever locate the original story. We remember the (unimportant) details a bit differently and sure would love to reread it. …Maureen & Howard G who are “sumware in NJ”

Ava Quinn said...

Hi Maureen and Howard! Glad to hear from you. Yes, that article was a powerful influence on me as well. I've never searched for it, but that's a good idea. I may have taken a few creative liberties with the details (I am an author after all :)), but that is essentially the way I remember it. I too remember the words when things get rough, and it helps me to put things in (what I feel) is the proper perspective. Thanks for checking in, and if YOU find it, let me know! I'll be sure to do the same.

Maureen 's a NJ Internet Prof said...

I posted a comment 3 years ago.
Well we kept Googling and found the story
Exactly as we remember it.
Going to share with many people I care about ...such an important lesson for enjoying life.
It is by Robert Fulghum
who wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and many others worth reading like this story.

Ava Quinn said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH, MAUREEN!! Yes, my details were a bit off, but probably because the article that I read when I was about 14 inspired me to read The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel.

You are so wonderful for remembering me and providing the links to the original article. Thank you for finding and sharing such a treasure - especially on Thanksgiving. It means more than you can know.

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