There is a fable whereby God gives each person the option to rid himself of his most pressing difficulty. Everyone places his or her problems in the center of a circle. In turn, each then inspects the travails and challenges of the others, and chooses what he or she would prefer. As the fable goes, everyone opts for his own problem. Human nature is to always consider oneself less fortunate than others – until presented with reality.
In a book he wrote not too long ago, Michael J. Fox considers himself to be a “lucky man.” When I watched him on a TV interview as he tried to contain uncontrollable tremors and twitches inflicted by Parkinson’s disease, I was astonished – and awed – to hear him describe himself as “fortunate.” He admits he would not have opted for this disease; yet as long as it is his path, he feels it is a gift because he’s able to help others.
Shall we compare? Fox describes Parkinson’s as “a gift;” I complain when I have to say “no” to a second scoop of ice cream. Maybe rethinking my position is in order.
Since I was a young overweight lad, I cannot remember when I did not complain about having to watch what I eat. While other children gorged themselves on potato chips, soft drinks, and chocolate fudge bars, my mother filled me with non-fat milk, fruit, and grilled chicken.
As a small boy stomping his feet in the midst of a tantrum, I would rail against the wrongness of the universe. “It’s not fair!” I yelled. “Richard and Nancy are going to get ice cream. I want to go too!”
In those early years, I could not know the pain my mother felt as she was compelled to hold back her son from the experience of his peers so he could learn much-needed healthier habits. Lovingly, she would reply, “You’re right; it’s not fair. But Richard and Nancy don’t have to watch their weight. You need to eat more carefully than they do.”
I grew resentful over time: wounded by the loneliness felt only by the unattractive, angry over diets that promised but never delivered, insulted and beaten down by boorish comments poking fun of my size. Why did God condemn me?
Michael J. Fox – with Parkinson’s – considers his disease a gift. I have an outburst over having to eat low-fat cheese. I’m thinking I just might need to “get over myself.”
I “suffer” from a disease of abundance. While half the planet’s population goes without, I must cut back. I must count calories in a world one person out of two prays not to go to sleep hungry.
If we were to put my problem in the circle, I think I’d take it back.