This quote was a favorite of my grandfather's. He was one of my earliest teachers in the most important of lessons: how to be a good person.
Grandpa Ray's empathy was legendary. It frustrated my grandmother no end. No matter how dire their own woes were, he always believed that others had it worse and wanted to be that person who lent a hand and helped to pull them up. I overheard many arguments over the years about one of Grandpa's generous acts that was going to make it harder on his own family. His response was always, "But they don't have what we have." He might mean something like a roof over their heads, or life skills, or siblings, or money, or a car, or any number of things that he was lending or giving away.
The quote is reminder that life circumstances are not always in your control, that even when we don't have many advantages or opportunities, there is likely some blessing in our lives, something that has kept us afloat when others have drowned. There's a humility and gratitude in the quote which touches me. Most of us live closer to disaster than we like to admit. How many paychecks could you miss before your family saw their lives change for the worse?
I'm more selfish than my grandfather was. There are hardships I won't put on my own family to help others--I pay our bills first, then see what's left to give from. But I still have a generous heart. Emotionally, at least, I still live by "There but for the grace of God go I."
Many people around me struggle worse than I do. Maybe they don't have a partner or a supportive family structure. Maybe they lack employment or inspiration. Maybe something within them doesn't work the same way it works for other people: brain chemistry, coping mechanisms, or positive outlook. Maybe we'll never know what the difference is that makes life harder on them.
Our society, especially when it comes to mental health issues, seems to want to regard these problems as moral failings or the results of bad choices. It's a weird and ugly kind of comfort, but nonetheless a common one to grasp: if the suffering person did or didn't do something they should have, then we can BLAME them for their own troubles, and believe it can't happen to us.
But it can. There but for the grace of God go ALL of us.
But we can make it better for each other, too. We can listen. We can donate. We can call others on it when they indulge in the blame game (and stop doing it ourselves). We can work to make a world that wants to see all of its people lifted up instead of a world that gets to the top by stomping down others.
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.