So, I was having a shitty week several days ago — even if I no longer remember why. Or maybe I didn’t even know at the time.
The fact was, everybody on earth was getting on my nerves. I am now old enough and smart enough to realize that usually signals something is wrong with me (God, I do miss my salad days of rank immaturity when I could blame the rest of the callous, uncaring world for my bad moods. Warm baths of self-pity and victimhood can be so satisfying). (Along the same lines, I also have to say I miss the wonderful, all-purpose excuse of PMS. When I was younger, I spent most of my time blaming it for everything. After menopause, though, your only conclusion can be that you have a permanently bad personality. Ouch.)
But anyway, I was having lunch that day with someone who was irritating me. I listened to her and thought about how self-absorbed and insufferable she was. In the midst of her complaints, I happened to recall a quote I’d just read about from Aristotle: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
So, I listened to her,and she slowly began to tell me how uneasy she was about the changes going on in her life, how easily upset she was. Maybe, it occurred to me, she wasn’t really self-absorbed. Maybe she was just troubled and trying to handle it.
Since I am only capable of thinking about one quote at a time, I hauled Aristotle along to a beauty appointment that afternoon. This was with someone I have seen frequently over the years, but I can’t say we’re close friends. She’s tough and outspoken and strong, I would have told you, someone who barges through life in a way I never could.
Oh, but I had Aristotle with me that day. When she mentioned something painful in her past, I asked her about it. She went on to tell me about the sexual trauma she suffered when she was in middle school and how no one believed her. She talked on and on and, by the end, we both had tears in our eyes.
I left the salon and went home and started poking around the Internet (I call this work). Somewhere — (Facebook? Salon? Daily Beast? I don’t know. When your mind is like velcro, you never know where you picked up something, only that it’s sticking to you and won’t let go) — but somewhere, I came across a complaint about how too many people had recently been marching around with some bogus quote by Aristotle. You know, that fraudulent quote about being kind to people, since they’re all going through great battles. Funny, the commenter noted, how people will believe anything.
So. What do you know?
Today, I finally looked up the quote, and according to BrainyQuote, the quote is real, but Plato said it. Plato, Aristotle, Mark Twain, the Reader’s Digest, Rush Fucking Limbaugh — I’m not sure I care about its origin. I just like the quote. For a few hours, it made me look at the world in a different way and helped me, briefly, to be a better person. How can you focus on yourself when you look up and see all the great and valiant battles that are going on around you?
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my very favorite posts about the scourge of the punctuation universe