In the year 2000, I started working in the field of hospice palliative care.
That experience was more profoundly educational than any university course I’ve ever taken, any book I’ve ever read, any personal growth workshop I’ve shelled out money for.
And the biggest lessons I learned over these years stemmed from one simple truism:
“There is no ‘Fair Fairy’ in life.”
In end-of-life care, we see unfair things happening day in and day out, and so pretty soon we learn that life is indeed not fair. Full stop. Period. End of discussion.
I was reminded there every day just how true this was when, for example, we had a 19-year old admitted to our inpatient unit who was dying of ovarian cancer. Or a young Mum in her early 30s leaving two tiny toddlers and a distraught husband behind. Or when we watched parents of any age grieving the death of their child, because everybody knows that it’s just not fair for parents to ever outlive their children.
Yet in the ongoing day-to-day drama that is Real Life – like for those of us diagnosed with a chronic and progressive illness like heart disease – sometimes, like a frustrated pre-schooler comparing the larger size of her big brother’s piece of cake with her own, we want to wail about the unfairness of it all.
I don’t deserve this!
Why did this happen?
It’s so unfair.
The annoyingly obvious response may well be best summed up by 11 Rules of Life, often attributed to Bill Gates, which starts off:
“Life is not fair. Get used to it.”
(These rules also prophetically warn, by the way: Be nice to nerds – chances are you’ll end up working for one!)
As Mike Myatt, a stroke survivor and author of Leadership Matters, wrote in Forbes on the subject of fairness (12/12/2011):
“We all face challenges, and life treats us all unfairly. We all make regrettable choices, and we all suffer from things thrust upon us through little if any fault of our own.
“People have overcome poverty, drug addiction, incarceration, abuse, divorce, illness, victimization, and virtually every challenge known to mankind.
“Life is full of examples of the uneducated, the mentally and physically challenged, people born into war-torn impoverished backgrounds, who could have complained about life being unfair, but who instead chose a different path – they chose to overcome the odds and to leave the world better than they found it.
“Regardless of the challenges they faced, they had the character to choose contribution over complaint.”
But what’s the secret in being able to move towards contribution, when what we really want to do is whine about unfairness?
Mayo Clinic oncologist Dr. Edward Creagan shares his advice on this issue. He describes, for example, these three fundamentals that he warns cannot be ignored if we want to move forward on a life journey towards any semblance of serenity and well-being in life, no matter what happens to us. I like his list:
- Life is not fair. The good people do not always win. And sometimes the best intentions are misguided or misinterpreted. Recognize your limitations — and those of others — and then move forward as best you can.
- You are responsible for your actions. Sure, you can complain. You can be critical, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you.
- The past is over. The future is not yet here. So today — this moment, this place in time — is all there is. If you continually focus on the rearview mirror of life, if you take your eyes off the road ahead, chances are slim that you will safely reach your destination.
Here’s a hot tip: facing this contextual shift must be a self-imposed act. It’s not something you can shove in somebody’s face by waving in front of them a copy of Dr. Creagan’s handy list of fundamentals.
And when life has pummelled us into the peat, we may well need time and patience and perspective (coupled with weeping, wailing and feeling very, very sorry for ourselves at first) until we finally feel ready to stop believing in the Fair Fairy.
Sometimes, life stinks. And yes, that’s just not fair.
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about the Fair Fairy in Chapter 7 of my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017) – the infamous chapter that the anonymous Johns Hopkins cardiologist who reviewed the manuscript before publication called “irrelevant to female heart patients”).
Q: How have you been able to shift from ‘unfair’ to ‘no Fair Fairy’?
Image: Dark Cordial, Pixabay