Sometimes a certain phrase will stick out in my mind through sheer repetition, like a mantra told and retold by everyone I meet. It was like that yesterday.
It started early at breakfast, when my daughter said it wasn’t fair that she had to eat eggs. Eggs don’t taste like anything, she said. The box of Pop Tarts she found in the cabinets was more to her liking. We tried explaining to her what she already knew, which was that Pop Tarts do not usually make a good breakfast for diabetics. That’s when she said it.
“It’s not fair.”
My son repeated those very three words not a half hour later, when he was finally convinced there would be no sudden and violent snowstorm and that he would have to go to school. He pouted on the sofa and pushed back tears. Tried to make himself cough. Tried to say he had a fever and chickenpox. When those things didn’t work, he slung his backpack over his shoulder and muttered, “It’s not fair.”
Heard it on the radio on the way to work, too. Someone called in to say it wasn’t fair that we had a Democrat in the White House. Someone else called in to say it wasn’t fair that we didn’t have an all-Republican Congress.
A student told me later it wasn’t fair that she had to wait for her mail.
Shortly after, I told myself it wasn’t fair that I had to be a mailman.
I went through the whole day like that, analyzing all the things people said to me. It was amazing just how often the issue of fairness crept into our conversations, whether outright or implied. In almost every case that fairness was something absent rather than present. Whether it was someone who was sick or out of work or just plain mean, it could all in some way be traced back to the simple fact that life isn’t fair and that we all suffer because of it.
Civilizations are built upon the notion that unfairness can be fixed. The laws we have are largely based on eliminating the inequality among us and replacing it with a sense of evenhandedness. It’s the concept behind things such as mediation and negotiation. It’s all done to make things fair, even if the results sometimes are not. Just ask my kids, who would much rather have Pop Tarts for breakfast and enjoy a perpetual summer vacation.
It’s something I hope they both grow out of and something I know they never will. After all, I’m pushing forty years old, and I don’t think much in my life is fair, either.
But for the past few days I’ve been watching the scene in the Middle East unfold. Like you, I’ve seen riots and protests. I’ve seen people beaten and robbed. I’ve heard the frantic pleas of people afraid for their families, for their futures, and for their very lives.
The vast majority of them are poor and undernourished. I’ve heard the average Egyptian worker makes just over four dollars per week. For thirty years they’ve been under the heel of a tyrant, and now most of the world fears that tyrant will be replaced by Islamic extremists who are even more tyrannical.
If someone would ask these people who have marched and shouted (and now bled and died), I’m sure they, too, would say it isn’t fair. They don’t enjoy the sort of life we Americans have. They don’t have the freedom to say and do. We have plenty, they have nothing. We have comfort, they have pain. Like us, they want to work and provide for their families and give their children a future. Unlike us, chances are they’ll never have those opportunities.
So I tell myself and my children this:
We all have struggles, not the least of which is that indwelt desire to obtain what we think will make our lives better. In this life we are subjected to things we do not deserve and must conform to things we do not like. We want fairness, but we’ll never have it. Not on this side of life.
But far from bemoaning that fact, you and I should be thankful for our position in all that unfairness. Because but for the grace of God, we would be the ones rioting and bleeding in the streets.