Last week on the way back from the store, I noticed a sparkle in the car in front of me. The driver had one of those lead crystal pieces that you hang over the rear view mirror, and which reflects rainbow light back into the interior of the car.
I can never see one of these without remembering a crystal pendant that belonged to a friend of mine from years back. She was my best friend before we moved to Seattle, and lived in the small house just behind ours. I wish I could remember her name now, but I’ve never been great with names. But I remember her, and her sisters, and her mother.
She was a beautiful young woman – probably one of the prettiest girls in class. Her three older sisters were also very lovely, and as nice as they were pretty. Their mom raised the girls alone, as their father died or ran off or something. She was short and dumpy and unattractive and not particularly nice.
I used to spend hours in their house, listening to Beatles music, sharing with my friend and her sisters about periods (it was one of her sisters that explained what it was all about) and training bras and even the concept of shaving one’s legs so that they looked nice with the short skirts getting popular at the time.
Their home was very small compared to our large two story house, and they had little money compared to us. Once Mom took me and my friend for a corndog and when we got back, my friend’s mother yelled and yelled at my Mom for her fancy ways and her money, and for …shaming her in front of her daughters
Mom wasn’t rich, but she was beautiful and popular, and worked and had money that my Dad provided every month so we lived nicely. More than that, we were First Family in that town, with a history and a place that assured us welcome everywhere. My friend’s family moved to town from Spokane, and there were those who would sniff about poor folk having no call to be so cantankerous.
My Dad was in Vietnam at the time and he would send me pretty jewelry he’d pick up in trips to Japan and elsewhere, like a lovely blue saphire necklace, and one made of gold and dark green jade. He even gave me a solitary diamond–a small one, but it was a diamond.
The only jewelry my friend had was a single lead crystal pendant; a pretty necklace but not worth much.
I remember one summer afternoon I think it was, being in my friend’s house and spying her necklace fallen on the floor. It looked like the clasp had been bent and she must have lost it without knowing it. I picked it up but rather than giving it to her, I put in my pocket and took it home. Later, I climbed out my bedroom window to the roof, my favorite spot, and pulled it out of my pocket. I held it up to the dying light, so that it sparkled back at me, just like that crystal in the car last week.
I didn’t return the necklace to my friend. I am still ashamed of what I did, especially considering that she had so little and I had so much. Somehow in my mind, I came to believe that taking what made my friend happy would somehow make me happy. And I was very unhappy at the time, living in a home whose outward appearance of small town contentment was just as fake as the jewel of that pendant.
Oddly enough, or perhaps synchronously enough, Dave Rogers wrote a post on obtaining wealth and status a couple of days ago that also reminded me of my own actions in taking that necklace. He wrote about people who seem to need wealth and status, even at the expense of friendhips; perhaps even of love:
…it occurred to me…that the pursuit of wealth and status is really about seeking authority over others. Money is a form of authority, while status is kind of a surrogate for authority.
People pursue wealth and authority at the expense of their own relationships with others because they don’t have authority over themselves. This is that feeling of powerlessness, although it is often experienced as anxiety or anger or depression. Things happen that upset us, and we don’t like and can’t control the feelings; so we seek enough authority to be able to control events so that, presumably, the bad things that cause the bad feelings don’t happen, or we can ignore them. This is ultimately futile, but many times we don’t discover this fact because we’re locked into the pursuit with the notion that, “It’ll get better when…” Only it never gets better.
Not just to get authority over others but also to take authority from others. To take others joy.
I see no harm in delighting in one’s success. I have tooted my own horn a time or two in this weblog, and I hope that others see it as delight in an event and a, natural, desire to share it with others. But there’s a difference between taking pride in one’s accomplishments because we feel good about them, and using such to steal respect from others in order to bolster our own worth– like I stole my friend’s necklace to grab a little of her joy.
It never works, you know– stealing the joy from others. After I took my friend’s necklace, she never mentioned it was gone; she continued happy, while I continued sad, made even more miserable by guilt. Those who want things–names to drop, money to spend–will, as Dave wrote, only find happiness within themselves and not given, or taken, from others.
Sometimes I find myself begrudging others their good luck or fortune or success, especially when I feel a failure with book deals that fall through, or jobs that are lost; or when I feel lonely sometimes on my solitary walks. But their happiness does not come at the expense of mine, and a person’s true worth, like the crystal in the car, reflects from inward not out.