The summer before my senior year of high school, I spent in Paris as an exchange student. Before my departure, I complained, as many sixteen-year-olds would, about not having anything “good” to wear. Still, I crossed the Atlantic with enough clothes to not repeat an outfit for an entire month.
I was assigned to a family with a small flat near the artist’s neighborhood of Montmartre. Six years of French lessons barely kept me afloat, but I didn’t need to speak the language to comprehend how poor my host family was. A weekly bottle of soda. Family card games instead of television. The hole in the little brother’s only sweater. Humbled, I hid my two suitcases under my bed and limited my wardrobe to only a few selections.
Some experiences change you forever. This trip to Paris would the first of my life-altering adventures. After falling in love in a Third World country, I would marry a man who placed no value on material possessions and try to live Mark Twain’s words, “To be satisfied with what one has; that is wealth.” Still, I’m only human and as Bria Simpson writes in her chapter Caviar Complaints, “It’s easy to lose perspective and get bogged down in what are really problems of the fortunate.”
Simpson writes, “You lose sleep because your son didn’t make the ‘right’ basketball team. You obsess about the inevitable imperfections of your body and your home. You worry because not every person likes you. These are problems you worry about because you can. If your basic survival were at stake, you wouldn’t worry about these caviar complaints.”
So when I got a telephone call from my mom announcing that my brother had been named Police Officer of the Year, over some 2,000 peers, and that the awards ceremony would be the week my final grades were due at the college, I took Bria Simposon’s advice. “Will this matter a year from now?” Since the answer was a resounding yes, I decide to put aside my work and make an impromptu trip to North Carolina.
I like to think of my “little” brother rescuing kittens from trees and helping old ladies across the street. In actuality, when there’s a homicide in Charlotte, Steve’s the one they call. (You’ll be able to watch him and his officers in action this fall on A&E’s The First 48.) As the only sergeant of this Violent Criminal Apprehension Taskforce, Steve has been on call 24/7 for over a year, making 3:00 a.m. trips to crime scenes while juggling the commitments required of a husband and father of three. As I wiped away tears while listening to my brother’s achievements, I knew I’d made the right decision to throw off my “balanced” schedule so I could be there to celebrate his extraordinary efforts and dedication.
What I wasn’t expecting was to continue crying through the remainder of the ceremony. Numerous individuals received Life-Saving Awards, but one story, in particular, still resonates with me. Two officers had to deliver the tragic news of a nine-year-old girl’s drowning to her mother. She excused herself to the hospital’s restroom. When five minutes passed and the mother hadn’t returned, the officers asked a nurse to check on her. The nurse reported that the mother had locked herself into a stall and was sitting on the floor, gasping for air. The officers entered the bathroom. Immediately, one noticed through the crack that the mother was no longer wearing her blouse. They kicked in the door and found that the grief-stricken mother had attempted to strangle herself with her shirt.
When I got back to Virginia late that night, I should have been stressed. There were finals to grade, suitcases to unpack, groceries to buy. But I wasn’t for all I could think about the whole way home was that distraught mother. Instead, I tucked my girls safely into their beds and I felt so lucky to have them in my life I thought I’d cry, again. My “caviar complaints” were never clearer.
The truth is I’m tired of wasting energy on trivial matters. I’d like to shift my thinking to maintain a healthy perspective, as Simpson encourages. “Deal directly with the big stuff and let the rest go…Practice gratitude daily and keep your life whole.” Because I have no doubt she’s right. Once I free myself from caviar complaints, I will open myself up for a life of abundance. Who could ask for a better environment to raise kids?