My husband and I are rather noisy people, so the house is in an uproar every evening until we decide to turn off the lights and go to sleep. Once the TV, the music, and our shouted conversations held OVER the noise ( lowering the volume seems too much trouble) falls silent, the guy in the flat above ours starts pacing.
He paces and paces and paces. And the ceiling goes creak creak creak. I’m sure he actually starts pacing long before we shut up…and he probably walks around long after we drift off.
One night I had a bit of trouble sleeping, and I began to wonder what ailed this person. (for I’m not sure if it’s a man or a woman, though judging by the heavy tread its either a man, or a woman built like a rhinoceros.) My imagination ran wild - unpaid debts amounting to crores, a murder on his conscience, a toothache, indigestion, the pain of having obnoxious neighbors downstairs, or the embarrassing fact that he’s built like a rhinoceros.
It could be anything. For you never know how a person reacts to misfortune. What I find fascinating is how little you can gauge about the magnitude of misfortune from the reaction it provokes.
In my 27 years, I have acquired a fairly large circle of friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and I have seen them go through almost the entire spectrum of misery.
Some of them came across as normal and vulnerable like the rest of us, until misfortune struck. But when it did, and kept coming, they just rose to the challenge with immense dignity and braced themselves for the next blow without any drama at all. And I bow in deep respect to these people. At these times, I am awed by the magnificence of the human spirit.
That is quickly dispelled of course by the other lot. The sort who moan and complain about every little thing , who are so enamored of their roles as tragic heroes at the center of the Universe, that they fail to put their trifling troubles in perspective. (Unfortunately, I am one of them, but in my defence, atleast I know that.)
And the most bizarre thing about this is - you often find people of the first group consoling those of the second… Hellen Keller (in sign language) to Bridget Jones “I'm sure he didn't mean it when he said you look fat! Don't cry! If I wasn't blind I'm sure I would have thought you most beautiful, dear.”
Which brings me back to my midnight pacer. Of course, one should not indulge frivolous melodrama, but this is a dilemma I have often faced while comforting friends who are upset. Does it really matter what caused the pain, if the pain itself is genuine? Does one walk away if she is wailing about her skin breaking out just before her wedding? Does one lavish sympathy on a person who is to all appearances holding up marvelously in the face of great tragedy and does not need your pity?
Judging by the mileage the hefty gentleman puts in every night, he is in deep pain. Maybe he deserves our sympathy just for that…without making judgments about what caused it.