Life Isn’t Fair


Most of us know “The Princess Bride” from its adaptation to film, but the book by William Goldman is one that has accompanied me through out my life. I won’t tell you the whole story but at one point Goldman describes a real life interaction he had with a friendly neighbor, Edith, who had the courage to tell him this:

“Life isn’t fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not only a lie, it’s a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it’s never going to be.” 

This is a statement that could be taken as cynicism or bitterness, but in the age of endless possibilities I find it liberating, and so did Bill.

“It isn’t!” I said, so loud I really startled her. “You’re right! It’s not fair.” I was so happy if I’d known how to dance, I’d have started dancing. “Isn‘t that great, isn’t it terrific?” I think along here Edith must have thought I was well on my way to being bonkers. But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying.

A few weeks ago a group of Gap participants (or Gappers from now on) embarked on a canoeing journey on the Moose River Bow in Maine. There are many ways to describe it. I could call it many things like  beautiful, scenic or exciting but I think it’s also important to call it challenging, strenuous and painful. Yes we paddled down magnificent views, collected elderberries, witnessed two moose and laughed out loud every day but that’s only part of the story.

A physical excursion, beyond the skill and experience of most of the gappers, offers a chance to find acceptance and comfort in the unfairness of life. Some of us can’t lift a canoe, even with the help of a friend or two. Some were naturally gifted at making a paddle while others struggled to make a dent in the wood. Some learn quickly from a verbal explanation and others have to work four times harder for a lesser result. Some can shrug off hunger or shoulder pain while others are unable to function. This can be frustrating, but being on the Bow it was also incredibly inspiring.

Our gappers carried each other’s canoes without resenting their friends for “doing less”. People quietly passed dried fruit, carrots and other treats when they noticed their friends losing motivation. Skills were shared and taught with patience even when it is tempting to leave someone struggle on their own and succumb to your own exhaustion.

These are the moments where real meaning is made and strong connections are forged. Life isn’t fair, people are not equal, but we can live a life in awareness of our strengths and flaws. We can forgive others their shortcomings as well as their advantages. It’s easy to get caught up in celebrating our own achievements and mourning the unfairness of it all.  We might try instead to learn from our Gappers and live a life in service of our neighbors.