A few days ago I was reminded of a life lesson that I learned 30 years ago. Back then, I was living in a small house in a small town, unhappily married and raising a toddler and an infant. With envy, I would gaze out my living room window at the big Victorian house on the hill next door. A family lived there. The wife was attractive and acted in community plays, the husband was a doctor and the kids were middle school age. I imagined their lives of privilege and good fortune while I mentally and emotionally wrestled with the mess I had gotten myself into. My beautiful children were the only things keeping me hanging in at that point.

One summer day I saw the attractive woman next door in the yard tending to the flowers. Envy reared its ugly head again. It was only a week later that I learned that her husband was leaving her to marry his nurse. Quite the scandal in a small town. Oh, I thought, obviously things are not always as they seem. Even now when I feel a twinge of envy, I evoke this lesson from long ago.

My husband and I divorced soon after the family next-door split up. Eventually I fled the small, smothering town for the big city when my children graduated from high school. Last week I heard that my former neighbor, the physician husband, had committed suicide. I don’t know why he did himself in but it reminded me again of my “envy” lesson and  that things are not always as they may seem. It also struck me that we don’t really know how our lives will unfurl and what the future holds. I’m sure this is not an end he could have imagined for himself all those years ago. Nor could he have imagined that his life provided me with important insights about living. We never know how each of us may touch other people’s lives.

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