Last week, I managed to sneak away to the library for an afternoon of research, and most importantly, peace. I love libraries as much as I love bookshops. And I love bookshops as much as I love cake.
The library was almost silent – which my house never is – so I got to work. Until, the angry people arrived.
First, there was the elderly lady who refused to pay her 29p fine for failing to return her Danielle Steele on time. “No, I cannot use the internet to renew my library books. I don’t have a computer!” She barked as she toddled out the door, angrily waving her walking stick in disgust.
Next, the angry mum with three unruly children took issue with the librarian’s request to try and keep the noise down. “Stuck-up cow!” She spat.
Finally, my little patch of tranquillity was invaded by angry mouse man. “Excuse me!” He shouted after repeatedly pounding the computer mouse on the table. “I said, excuse me. I’ve paid for my 30 minutes, but I’ve spent most of that time trying to turn the bloody computer on. I ain’t paying again.”
An elderly gentleman leant over and whispered: “They should be grateful they’ve got the chance to visit the library. My wife’s been in hospital for six weeks and she’s never coming home. She’ll be gone soon.”
I offered my sympathies and returned to my script. But, his sorrowful words stayed with me. Why do we not express enough gratitude for ‘our lot’?
I love visiting the library but I don’t think I’ve ever expressed gratitude for being able to read, for free, any book I choose. Consider the impact of, and appreciation for, a library in somewhere like Chad, Mozambique or Mali. Yes, I realise the irony in that statement considering the abysmally low literacy rates in such places, but you get my drift. We Westerners are an ungrateful bunch.
Before I drove home, I went for a coffee. The angry people were there too. I saw a woman berating the barista, for forgetting to squirt a shot of vanilla syrup into her latte. The man behind her tutted because the ruckus was taking up too much time. Exchanging angry looks, the man said: “This is a bloody nightmare!”
A nightmare? I’m tempted to stand on my chair and shout: “A nightmare? Get a bloody grip. This is hardly Kabul. Be grateful you’ve got the time, money and freedom to eat today. Get some perspective, arsehole!”
I can’t imagine how soldiers must feel when they return from the front line. How do they cope when their flaky friends complain about their ‘day from hell’ because they’ve spent an hour on the M25. A ‘day from hell’ is not being stuck in your car waiting for traffic to clear. It is not having to stay in work ‘til 7pm to complete an assignment nor is it lying on the sofa nursing a sore-throat. It is not having to wait a week to get a dentist appointment or spending 45 minutes on your phone arguing with the bank.
These things are a pain in the arse, at most. A day in hell, they most definitely are not. Of course, one person’s hell is another person’s heaven. Each of us respond differently to ‘stressful’ situations. Some people have a nervous breakdown because someone spilled Ribena on their carpet and others swim in adversity and glide like swans.
In the past few months, I have met some incredible and inspirational people. Victims of rape, child abuse, terminal illness, depression and post-traumatic stress. The smiles they wear conceal a lifetime of suffering, often leaving others to assume: ‘Well, she’s hardly had a tough life, has she?’
I find that those who have suffered the most, suffer silently. And those who have suffered little, suffer loudest.
We are too quick to moan; to whine on about what is bad in our lives, instead of expressing gratitude for what we do have. It’s habitual and easy to say: ‘I’ve had a shit day’ instead of: ‘My day was hard but I’m grateful I’m in work; I’m earning money and I can come home to a house that is warm and dry and free from nightly artillery fire.” Nobody does that, but we should.
Comic Relief is a great wake-up call. Just 5 minutes watching a queue of thousands of displaced and distraught Syrian refugees makes us re-evaluate how bad our days really are. But, this feeling is fleeting.
I’ve started to express gratitude each morning and night. I don’t list every single thing, of course. It’s not: “I am grateful for my legs, arms, feet, toes, sense of smell, lungs, kidneys, oxygen, water, food, trees, flowers, animals etc.’ Perhaps it should be, but that would probably eat in to my day a bit.
Nevertheless, the art of expressing gratitude is underrated and I’m certain we would all deal with adversity so much better if we paused before grumbling about what we don’t have and expressed relief for what we do.
My son has just wee’d on my new bathroom mat. Marvellous. Thank God I have two beautiful healthy children. Sod the mat.