I am not a jealous person. Or am I?
When I was a little girl, a group of us went to the fields with our kites, as a part of science class where we learned about the lift of air. The kites were bright things of construction paper and balsa wood, and although we had followed the same instructions, they were reflections of personal investment – square, pointed, simple or fancy.
Of course, my kite had trouble flying, long after everyone else’s was up in the air, and by then, no one could help me with my own kite — they were too busy flying. The frustration of not having succeeded at something that seemed so straightforward, as well as not being able to control the damn kite, made me blind with tears and anger until I saw my best friend’s kite hit the ground.
“Will you help me?” she asked. “I don’t know why it won’t go back up again.”
“Sure,” I said, still disappointed that I hadn’t even flown a first time. But while she unwound the string from its tangle, I poked a little hole in the kite’s paper.
I look back with shame and fascination at that un-self-conscious moment when the green-eyed monster of jealousy — the jealousy of her success — reared its head and poked its ugly finger into my best friend’s kite. That hole grounded her kite, and she, not knowing what I had done, generously helped me get my kite to fly. I felt terrible afterwards, and though I made up for it by being extra nice, I never told her and I never should have done it.
I don’t believe I consciously act to take away other’s happiness now, but I am aware of when I am enthralled by the green-eyed monster. It is easy to be magnanimous and generous when you are the winner, when you get your expected outcome. But in the land of the green-eyed monster, happiness is like grains of sand on a scale; what you pour out on one side, you take away from another. Moments have come and gone in my life where I have been successful, and others have been successful, but if it is in the context of whether I have achieved my own goals, the green-eyed monster is always lurking. I try to stop myself, because I realize: we all have our own kites to fly, and we can help each other get them up in the air.
This past year, I had set expectations for myself that I would do even more at work AND I would finish my children’s book; extra credit would be if I was on path to publication. And I was going to increase my volunteer efforts, because what better way to help others fly their own kites. It didn’t occur to me to weigh all the factors that would go into achieving those goals, or to weigh in the impact of anything else going on in life. It was simply an exercise of organization and sheer will. By the end of the year, it was apparent that things were going differently than planned in life AND my book was not done. I had failed my measures. The “almost” of that assessment, and of any other small and medium blessings, were lost to me in comparison to the deliberate sacrifices in sleep, time, and health I had made to “get to the goal”. I could feel the physical burden of wearing that failure all over me.
“Would you like to come out with me and my friends?” my husband asked one night. He was succeeding in his own journey: he was training for a marathon and had regained control of his health; he had remade his work identity by creating his own business; and he had gained new friends in the process — friends that had time to spend with my husband, my girls, where I had not.
He looked great. I looked haggard. He was glowing. I was bitter and tired. I could feel the grains of sand shifting inside me, draining outside of me to fill his happiness until I was left with that seething emptiness again.
I told him I was going to sleep, and that I didn’t need new friends.
Sometimes time and reflection are the only salves. As days passed and my eyes cleared, I started to take in again the human complex landscape that was New York: the well-dressed man rifling through garbage for the want ads; the hipster and the homeless woman chatting over coffee; kids walking to school; delivery men joking from their trucks; shiny things; ugly things. Life goes on.
I took a deep breath and I finished my book, because in fact that self-imposed deadline was negotiable. I took a deep breath and I thanked God for my job and set about setting priorities that would allow me to come home for dinner and go on field trips with my girls.
In the land of the green-eyed monster, you can be blind and you can forget your power. Or you can admit that the monster exists and not let him pounce when you lose your balance for the moment.