At eight, my son is at that age when the world begins to unfold in a way that is both bigger and bitter. It’s exciting—some days he feels like an explorer set loose in a strange and fantastical land. But it’s heartrending, too, because he’s beginning to realize that though strange and fantastical, the world is also mean.
His word—mean. I don’t think I’ve ever heard life described as such, but I think it’s apt. This world does look and feel mean sometimes. It isn’t easy. Many times, it’s not fun. And very often it doesn’t seem much fair at all.
This last point—the unfairness of it all—has been a common topic in our home of late. The Coffey household has had its share of aggravations, most of which are too insignificant to share but matter enough when they’re felt. It’s the little things that make our days bright or sullen, depending upon which way they turn. It all accumulated the other day with my boy, who was forced to miss a friend’s birthday party when he developed a sudden and ferocious cold. Sitting there on the sofa, coughing and snotting and feverish, he looked at me and said,
“Everything should be made fair, cause nothin is.”
Wise words made wiser because they’re true. It was kind of sad to be there when he said that, and not just because he felt so bad when he did. No, what got me was that he was only eight, and he’d just stumbled upon that one great truth. I was hoping that knowledge would continue to elude him, if only for a while longer. We grow up to discover a myriad of unpleasantness in this world, but few are as unwelcomed, as…unfair.
It isn’t fair that some live in want and others in excess. It isn’t fair that some are hungry and others are gluttons. It isn’t fair that a man can’t find a job, or a woman can’t bear a child, or that there are the lonely and the downtrodden, or that war is everywhere and peace is nowhere, or that babies die and the elderly waste away, or that dreams so often go unfulfilled. And it isn’t fair that all of those things happen so, so often, and there doesn’t seem to be any way around it.
If my son had his way, everything would be fair. People would get what they deserved. The world would be a better place.
You could chalk that up to childlike reverie if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of grownups think much the same thing. Fairness is a word we hear a lot of nowadays. It’s repeated by politicians and activists, protestors and pundits. They want to make new rules, they say. Change the order of things. Make it all new again.
They want to make everything fair, cause nothin is.
Me, I’m not sure where I stand on all of this. The notion seems good enough, I guess. I’m just not too sure of the consequences. The whole thing seems a bit too pie-in-the-sky, akin to working towards the goal of every day being Christmas.
Life is inherently hard. That’s what I wanted to tell my son as he sniffled beside me. It’s hard and tough and won’t get easier. And sometimes the more you wish the more disappointment comes, just as sometimes the harder you’ll try the more you’ll fail.
But I held my tongue and let him pour it all out, because sometimes you have to do that, too. You have to get angry and disgusted. You have to lash out. Often, that’s the only way change ever comes.
And who knows, maybe someday everything will be fair. Maybe his is the generation that will change the order of things and make everything new again.
Maybe. Who knows.
But I doubt it. Call me cynical. Because this world isn’t for the weak or the weary, but it’s still the only world we have.