June 13, 2019

Food for Thought

Last Sunday was beautiful. Cool and sunny. We walked around our neighborhood, leaving our annoying teenager at home binge-watching 90210. I suggested we stop by the small, quiet cocktail bar on Clinton Street near East Broadway. There was only an old man sitting at the bar conversing with the young bartender. We sat at the cafe-style marble table by the entrance. The bartender brought us our drinks. Beautiful weather, an entertaining conversation partner, a quiet, comfy bar, a tasty cocktail; I couldn’t think of anything else that could make this moment any better.

Then we saw a friend whom we hadn’t seen in a while riding his bicycle. He stopped by to say hello. We met him and his wife a little over a decade ago through our kids. After their kids moved to a different school, we rarely saw them. He always has a smile on his face as if he was born with it, but towards the end of our lively chat, the smile suddenly disappeared; he told us that his wife is in a hospital with terminal cancer and that she doesn’t have long to live.

Understandably, my wife felt depressed after that. I felt sad for my friend but at the same time, felt extremely lucky that we are healthy, that we can enjoy our cocktails. A dose of reality like this makes us realize how unfair life is. It’s not like she did anything wrong to deserve her terminal illness. It’s not like I did anything great to deserve my current life either. The fact that I enjoy whatever I enjoy in my life now is an arbitrary fate. If I were born in a poor village in China, I might be collecting empty bottles instead of drinking the content.

Although I don’t practice it, the Christian tradition of saying grace before a meal makes a lot of sense. It’s a moment you take to remind yourself of this undeserving fortune. Without this type of moment, we can easily take everything for granted. In fact, the word “grace” generally refers to our ability to accept all the good and the bad in life without feeling proud or bitter. It’s particularly important when our lives take a turn for the worse. It’s only fair that we sometimes get unlucky if we sometimes get lucky. Nobody should expect to live “happily ever after.”