Other people’s moccasins
July 25, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

Upon returning from a recent vacation Up North, I, along with many of my neighbors, experienced an extended power outage on one of the hottest days of the year.

For me, one of the highlights of this ordeal was covering a school board meeting.

The school was also experiencing a power outage, which meant the only light came from a window, and there was no ventilation.

Entering the school media center, I had the sensation that I was spending a quiet evening with those crazy young Jewish lads, Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego, in their favorite hangout.

I must confess I found it a bit uncomfortable.

I spent most of the time mopping my brow with a large red and white cotton bandana. My concentration may have been a trifle less sharp than usual, and the meeting seemed to drone on forever.

I have been hot before. My Finnish forebearers taught me from a young age to appreciate the benefits of a good sauna, but we generally took our saunas naked, not fully dressed, and I never had to take notes.

We also had the benefit of jumping into a snowbank, lake, or river after our saunas, rather than going back out into more heat.

When I returned to the bachelor pad, things weren’t much better. It was a few degrees cooler, and I was able to dress a bit more casually, but it was still plenty warm.

Since there was no electricity, my options were limited. I spent the rest of the evening lying sprawled out on the rack like a beached leviathan reading a book with the aid of the head lamp from my camping kit.

The power outage lasted less than 10 hours (although it seemed a lot longer), and we were back in business just after 2 a.m. Then, the refreshing breeze from the air conditioner made it possible to get at least a few hours of decent sleep.

This power outage was a bother and an inconvenience, but it was very minor in the grand scheme of things. I lost some food and some sleep, but nothing more.

The incident prompted a couple of observations.

First, it made me realize how soft I have become.

I spent the first half of my life without any air conditioning at home or in any of my vehicles. It never bothered me because that was what we were used to.

Now, I am much less tolerant of extremes in temperature.

I think many of us rely more on artificial means of keeping ourselves comfortable these days. That is not to say that this is good or bad, it is just the way things are.

The other realization that was provoked by this little adventure is that there are a whole lot of people in the world who are worse off than we are.

The victims of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters have to put up with this kind of discomfort and more, not just for hours, but for days or even weeks.

Instead of losing an icebox full of groceries, some people lose everything they own.

There are other people who may never enjoy the luxury of air conditioning or many of the other things we take for granted.

It is easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves when we are confronted by minor inconveniences, and to become frustrated by trivial irritations.

I am thankful, in an odd sort of way, for that power outage. I am thankful because it reminded me just how lucky I am.

It is much easier to look on the bright side when one has had a glimpse of the dark side.

I suspect I would be even more of a cantankerous devil than I am now if I was exposed to serious discomfort on a daily basis, and I am thankful that I don’t have to find out. I’m pretty sure those who have to put up with me on a regular basis are glad about that, too.

Life is full of these little opportunities for learning and introspection. One does not intend to get all philosophical, but it does seem like it would be a good idea to take advantage of these opportunities when we can.

One wouldn’t want to give up complaining altogether, since this is one of our chief joys in life, but perhaps there is room for compromise.

Perhaps instead of focusing on how our minor misfortunes interrupt our days, we might take a moment to think of the very old or very poor who put up with extreme heat in the summer, bitter cold in the winter, and shortages of food, medication and other important things throughout the year.

Instead of moaning about our own inconveniences, we might consider those who are locked in a daily struggle to survive.

We may not be able to solve all the world’s problems, but maybe if we spend less time whinging about our own problems and take a moment now and then to look at things from someone else’s perspective, that alone will help to make the world a better place.

The Native Americans used to say that walking a mile in the other guy’s moccasins can do wonders when it comes to improving our understanding. It might be wise to do more walking in strange moccasins and less worrying about buying the latest and greatest shoes for ourselves.

On the other hand, it is possible that the recent wave of heat and humidity cooked my brain, and none of this makes any sense at all. One can never be sure.

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