This weekend, I had to do a little soul-searching regarding my reaction to another person’s joyous moment. I volunteered to play French horn in the pit orchestra for a local production of Cinderella, which was great fun and allowed me to make some new friends and grow as a musician. The young woman playing the lead role was playing opposite her real life boyfriend of several years. During the Saturday evening performance, he matched her with her missing shoe but then deviated from the script by pulling her center stage and asking her if he would be his “forever princess” and presenting her with a diamond engagement ring. The musical then continued on to the wedding sequence and ended as planned.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t like ostentatious displays of emotion. I’m not comfortable watching them or participating in them, and I am rarely motivated to cry. It isn’t that I don’t feel things very deeply; I am just distressingly uncomfortable with expressing my feelings. (Aside from anger that is…I’ve got that one down fairly well.) Therefore, my first reaction to this heartwarming little scene was not that of 99.9% of the women in the audience that evening. Unlike them, I did not tear up, scream with joy, or clap my hands. I might have smiled a little, but that’s all. It was the second performance of the day, and after eight performances of a fairy tale musical, it begins to grate on the nerves.
My nearly Vulcan reaction to the scene wasn’t what gave me great pause, but my thoughts on the matter afterwards did. The young lady in question, I’m told, is the picture of loveliness and kindness. She and I have spoken exactly three words together, and they happened the night of her engagement:
Her: “Thank you.”
That’s as far as our relationship goes, and barring our working together in another musical, I doubt it will develop to any further.
On the way home, I began to think about the difference in her life situation and mine, and in my writerly way, I began to cull details I had noticed and learned about her to create a story that would allow me to dislike her intensely. I began playing my own version of “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” with my memories and imaginings, alternating between what she (likely) has and what I have. For instance, she’s been the star of several well-received musicals. She’s young, beautiful, wealthy (from what I could see), and has very few limitations placed on her life. She is earning her doctoral degree from a prestigious university and, again I’m guessing here, has likely never known suffering or compromise. The version of her I created is every bit the princess she played on stage, and that was what began to stick in my craw the more I thought about it.
In contrast, I spent those nine shows dressed in black, stuck in a corner and playing what seemed to be an endless series of upbeats. The only time I was noticed was when I missed a note or a rhythm, and I’m sure few even took note of those mistakes (pun intended). Unlike the paper doll I’d envisioned in my mind, I am hardly princess material. I stand nearly six feet tall and boast few physical graces. I know what William Faulkner described as “the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less,” my dreams of a Ph.D. and a university career grow more ephemeral with each passing year, and I’ve been beset by more health and personal troubles in the last half decade than I care to admit. In essence, while she was being waltzed around the stage, I was emptying spit out of my horn during a tacet number.
Envy, the “green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on,” was what was gnawing at me. That and nothing else. After all, from where I sat, she had just about everything I (and any other red-blooded American female) want, and I started ruminating on that and losing perspective on life. I was positively catty most of the next day because of it, but the more I pondered both that moment and my reaction to it, I realized that it was not justified.
It also wasn’t Christian. So I went in search of scripture to help me “get my mind right” as the Captain from Cool Hand Luke might say. A search through both the Old and New Testaments turned up several instructive passages, the most relevant of which were:
“For wrath kills a foolish man, And envy slays a simple one.”–(Job 5:2)
“A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.”–(Proverbs 14:30)
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”–(1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)
“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”– (James 3:16)
The truth of the matter is quite clear from these few scriptures. Envy is something everyone is prone to as it is a weakness of the flesh and is not of the spirit. Focusing on what she had and what I “lacked” only weakened me spiritually. I couldn’t take joy in the things that I do have–a loving family, a husband who adores me, good health despite my MS diagnosis, friends, a church home, and above all, a God who loves me and who has a plan for me that is right and just though I lack the power to discern it as of yet. To wish I had another’s life is fallacious as it would deny me all the good things I enjoy in my own, and wasting my time in envy is only harming my soul and sense of well-being. Unless the young lady in question ever reads this blog entry, she will never know my thoughts or what it took for me to see the error in them.
I may never get the “glass slipper,” and instead of spending my life “bemoan[ing] my outcast state” as Shakespeare put it in “Sonnet 29,” I am meant to trust and obey and to be content with my lot. Quite honestly, I have neither earned nor deserved the blessings that are already mine, and to wish them away for those of another is nothing but injurious to my own soul and detrimental to my fellowship with God.