When I was little - around 6 or 7 - I watched a telethon about starving children in Africa. Little souls with dark skin filled our black and white television screen, their bellies swollen, feet bare, eyes sad, and expressions hopeless. I was stunned. To that point, the only exposure I'd had to Africa was through Curious George and Babar; I'd never even seen any brown children in person; and no one around me was hungry... not that I knew, anyway. Though my parents had little money, I didn't realize that. We ate big meals together, around a Formica table in a happy, orange-painted kitchen. My days were filled with friends and school and the playground one-street-over; my nights were spent tucked into a cozy bed with clean sheets, in a room filled with dolls and books housed on shelves my dad made for me and painted pink.
I did not understand this desperate need.
I remember tearfully begging my parents to send money to save all those sad children. When they declined (we must help people in our own country first, you know, and the money you send to those organizations doesn't make it to those children on the television, anyway), I offered up all my dinners for the next month or two (the liver and meatloaf especially).
And I remember crawling onto my dad's lap and asking how God could allow such bad things to happen.
Now, my dad was no philosopher. And he wasn't always good at explaining things on a child's level (his description of communists gave me nightmares for years). He was also not a religious person (though he was a Believer), and my throwing God into the mix threw him. He told me later, when I was much older and we revisited this topic, that he knew even then I wouldn't accept the pat "God's plan" sorts of answers.
I could be a difficult child.
I thought the way he wound up explaining it was pretty good. Pretty damned good.
"You have to think of the world like a hamburger. You know how there's a top and a bottom to the hamburger bun, right? You can't have two tops or two bottoms, can you? You must have one of each. And the top part of the bun is bigger than the bottom, right? Well, think of the good things in the world as the top part... and the bad things in the world as the bottom. You can't have the good without the bad... or the bad without the good. And, hopefully, the good in the world is bigger than the bad."
To my discerning little-girl psyche, it made perfect sense.
To my discerning big-girl psyche, it still makes perfect sense.
I'm not a religious person. I'm not even a Believer. I feel so terrible for people who, when faced with a great loss, plead to God to help them understand why; why he felt it necessary to take from them. I don't need to ask why bad things happen... I don't try to understand how... I simply accept that they do. They have, they do, and they will -- forever and ever.
It makes it easy for me. But though I don't try to look for reasons, I do try to look for lessons. I try to learn something from every bad situation I see or face myself. I try so very hard to pull the good from the bad and I believe so strongly that there is something positive to be found in every terrible thing that befalls us.
And lately? I've tried to be grateful for the bad things.
That's not easy, let me tell you. But if you think about it, it makes sense.
When you've been sick, you appreciate your health so much more. When you've been in pain, you appreciate the relief that comes from being pain-free. When you've been sad, you appreciate the happy. When you've been flat broke, you appreciate the security that comes from having money.
You understand. Good with bad. Light with dark. Up with down.
The top of the bun with the bottom of the bun.
When you're in the midst of the bad stuff, though, it's hard to believe the good will come back. But it does.
It always does.
Because nothing lasts forever. Not the good stuff. Not the bad stuff.
So right now, at this time of year, when everyone is thinking about and listing all the wonderful things they're grateful for, like family and friends and health and jobs -- the top of the bun -- I'm going to think of the bottom. I try hard all year to be grateful for the good things in my life, so right now? I'm going with the crap.
The bottom of the bun.
I'm going to be grateful for the pain, the fear, the hurt, the loss, and all the dark stuff that makes me want to crawl under the covers and hide. Because when I make my way back out into the light?
And I always make my way back out into the light...
It's so very good.
It's top of the bun good.