After Hurricane Katrina sent two pine trees crashing through our home, friends said, “It could have been worse.”
And they were right.
We could have lost our entire home. Jim, my husband, could have been unemployed. Weston, my son, could have spent his entire freshman year attending high school in Texas.
As the months passed, we rebuilt our home. Gradually, our life returned to what it had been like before the disaster. Every day when we read the newspaper or watched the television, we were reminded that it could have been worse. We could have been living in a FEMA trailer. Our school could have been closed. We could have been fighting with an uncooperative insurance company.
Before Katrina, I never was a follower of the “it could be worse” philosophy.
It’s a sentiment I have heard too many times in my life. People, always curious about why I walk “funny” or use a wheelchair, frequently ask what is wrong with me.
I would explain that I was born with a neuromuscular disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT). Invariably, the one response I heard time and again was, “It could be worse.”
Yes, it could.
It can be much worse. And yes, there are people whose lives are worse than mine.
During Katrina, my friend Michelle, who is legally blind, stopped by to ask how we were doing.
She knew we had to live in our house as it was being rebuilt. I was tired of the mess and the stress of waiting for repairs to be done. For seven months our “kitchen” was a dorm-size refrigerator and a microwave oven. The simple, daily task of preparing a meal was nearly impossible. As I described my post-Katrina world to Michelle, I began to cry. I told her that I knew I should not complain. I felt guilty when thousands of people were dealing with so much that was far worse than what I had to contend with.
Michelle said, “Their pain doesn’t make yours any less. You’re entitled to mourn and to grieve for what you’ve lost.”
She hugged me. And never once did Michelle say, “It could be worse.”
About a year after Katrina, I injured my back. I could not stand on my right leg without screaming. The pain was excruciating.
In a few months, I became dependent on my husband. I needed his assistance to dress, bathe and even use the bathroom. I became weaker and weaker.
This was the worst.
For months, I went to physical therapy and tried to regain what I’d lost. A year later, I’ve improved. I’m better, but much more limited.
The pain has subsided. The frustration remains.
I do compare what I can do today with what I was able to do a year ago. It’s not the same.
Now, I really understand, “It could be worse.” I’ve suffered through worse. I’ve spent months healing my body, only to discover I’m too weak to pull on a pair of pants. My always precarious balance is shot and my knees hyperextend to an almost comical angle. I’m afraid that I’ll fall and do even more damage to a body that I cannot control.
Last week, as I was doing aquatic therapy, a woman whom I’d just met asked me if I could walk. She wanted to know about CMT. We talked for a while.
I told her the disease was progressive.
She said, “It could be worse.”
For a moment, her comment made me angry. I didn’t say what I was thinking. I merely nodded my head as if I agreed.
Yes, there are people who are more miserable than me, but that doesn’t make my situation any better.
Is Michelle’s blindness worse than my inability to walk? Her life is what it is and so is mine.
I’m choosing to focus on what is good in my life. What does not hurt. What works. I’m trying to stay in the moment. Live now.
Yes, it could be worse.
But that’s not the philosophy I will embrace. I will not be comforted by “it could be worse.” That kind of thinking does not inspire hope or optimism.
Instead of contemplating how my life could be worse, I am praising what is right. Reliving the past and worrying about the future are a waste. This moment is my life.
It could be — the best.
Barbara Twardowski lives in Mandeville, La. A freelance writer, she’s a frequent contributor to Quest.