33: A Matter of Perspective

33: A Matter of Perspective

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

A Matter of Perspective

What we see depends mainly on what we look for.

~John Lubbock

There have been times in my life when I felt like I had the weight not only of the world, but the entire universe, on my shoulders. During those times I was sure life couldn’t get any worse, and that I was the unluckiest person who’d ever lived.

That all changed in a heartbeat one cold winter day. I found myself downtown, shuffling along the street with my head hanging, my spirits low. I’d just gotten word the promotion I was hoping for had gone to another person. A year’s worth of hard work had come to nothing, and I was looking at another year of grinding away at a crummy job I could barely stand. The icy wind that bit at my face was like a slap from the uncaring hand of fate.

Worse than all that, I was meeting my wife, and I’d have to look into those hopeful, ever supportive eyes and watch the light go out of them as I told her how I’d failed to reach yet another goal. We would have to find a way to make do again, to figure out how to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, when we’d already stretched our budget to the breaking point.

Why did life have to be so hard? I worked for my living, putting in eight, ten, twelve hours a day, going to school at night trying to better myself and make me look more indispensable to the company I worked for. Didn’t I offer to take every thankless job that no one else wanted to touch? Didn’t I show up every day with a smile on my face and a can-do attitude? Why was all that effort ignored?

Finally I saw my wife standing there, moving from one foot to the other, trying to stay warm. I immediately noticed her coat, years out of style and beginning to grow threadbare at the edges, her shoes that were not made for such harsh weather, and the hair that she had learned to cut herself to save money. This was the woman that I had to disappoint yet again. I knew that the dreams she’d had in her heart when we first married had not been extinguished, but they had been cut down and reduced to more modest hopes. Even those would have to be dashed this day.

I stood there holding her against the cold as I explained what had happened, and being the person she is, she took it all in with a grace and love that would not allow a trace of accusation aimed at me. She didn’t have to. I felt enough of it for both of us. As we walked toward the bus stop, passing by a group of strangers huddled against the cold, I couldn’t contain it any longer. I stopped and looked up at the heavens, feeling the anger well up in my throat.

“Why does it have to be like this?” I said out loud, the bitterness plain in my voice. “Why do we have to be stuck renting a tiny little house in a poor neighborhood? Why do I have to have a desk job that pays me minimum wage? Why does my family have to live on beans and rice and bread? Why do we have the same clothes we bought years ago? Why am I down to my last five dollars every payday? Why does it have to be like this?”

My wife was trying to tug me along, but I pulled back, not wanting to take another step further in the terrible life I had. I stood there on the icy street, wanting to just collapse under the weight of my endless problems. I was ready to give up, to say I had been cheated out of a life that I deserved. That’s when I heard the voice speak softly beside me.

It was one of the strangers in the group of men we’d passed by, and as I turned to look at him I realized he was one of the homeless people who hung out by the river surviving on handouts. The man was dressed all in rags, his hands and face were red from the cold, and the look on his face was one of the saddest I had ever seen. I stood there and stared at him, hearing the words he’d spoken moments before echo inside my head.

“Man, I wish I had that guy’s problems.”

In that instant I came to realize all the blessings that had been given to me, all the gifts I’d taken for granted and ignored. As I looked over and stared at my wife trembling in the cold, I realized I was one of the luckiest men on earth. I had a wife who loved me, a family I adored, a job that kept us going, and hopes and dreams for the future that had never been erased.

I smiled at my wife, and the hope I’d been draining from her came back into her eyes. There was a silent question I asked her, and she instantly understood what I wanted to do. She nodded, and I stepped toward the man who’d spoken those words. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my last five dollars, and put them into his hand. Then I rejoined my wife and the two of us walked down the street, the warmth in our hearts keeping us safe from even the bitterest cold.

~John P. Buentello

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