All That We Gain
by Jennifer Paros
“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. ”
~ Byron Katie
Recently, I had a second opportunity to watch the Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire. For the first twenty minutes I questioned whether I’d paid any attention at all during the first viewing. It seemed my memory had been erased of all the difficult, dark parts; all I’d been left with was the good feeling at the end. The writers had crafted a script that managed to emphasize gain over loss and that was my take-away.
Jamal, our hero, is a contestant on the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire and every question he’s asked, he’s able to answer only because of his life experiences. Told in flashback, Jamal’s orphaned, impoverished, criminal, often traumatic and dark past is revealed as he draws upon it to win.
If we look at the story of Slumdog Millionaire metaphorically, the plot can be seen as a paradigm for viewing life. Jamal finding the answers in his experiences suggests that everything we live can provide us with all we need to thrive. There is beauty in the thought that whatever happens, whether deemed wrong, bad, good, lucky, or unlucky, is ultimately right. It’s all of use, all valuable in some, perhaps as yet unknown way. Seeing life in this way means everything is gain.
For many of us, this concept doesn’t fly; we’re often more used to speaking of loss: someone loses his leg, his job, his wife; grandpa loses his hair (maybe grandma too). But if we look at the language verses the actuality – “loss” and “losing” are not accurate. Grandpa’s hair isn’t lost; it fell out more and grew back less. The wife isn’t lost; she is dead. The leg is not lost; it’s been amputated. Just because something is no longer physically present doesn’t mean we have to describe it as lost – an emotionally triggering tag that makes it hard to recognize the gain. When the last cupcake is eaten, we are without cupcakes but we don’t experience the loss of our cupcakes. We choose, as individuals and as a society, which absences we call “loss” and which we don’t – it is not predetermined, it is storytelling.
The thing about the glass half full/half empty analogy is that the glass is both. We’re not putting on rose-colored glasses to see it as half full; we’re just seeing it. Our words either point to the gain of what we have or they point to what’s not there. This isn’t putting a happy face on a bad situation; it’s allowing what is to be seen in its entirety and us to naturally be drawn to that which we can build upon rather than that which we cannot. And we cannot build upon the concept of loss.
The older I get, the greater power I seem to have . . . I am like a snowball - the further I am rolled, the more I gain.
~Susan B. Anthony
There is a video in which participants answer the question, “If you could change anything about your body, what would you change?” The first responses, from adults, are focused on large foreheads, big ears, stretch marks etc. But when they ask children the same question, they respond in terms of expanding their powers-adopting traits like teleportation, mermaid tails, cheetah legs, and wings.
They imagine themselves as more. They don’t focus on current, unwanted specifics; they envision having richer experiences. The children in the video see present conditions as a launching pad for creating what they want; they perceive what they have as gain and what they want as expansion.
When I am faced with a challenge, it rarely occurs to me that the answer has arrived with the problem, but maybe it has. I often see where I am as at odds with where I want to go. However, most great books have been written and rewritten; most paintings have been worked and reworked. Within each draft or version lie answers to the new questions arising, giving us everything we need to create the next better version – a version that includes even more of what we most want. Our lives can be seen in the same way: each moment a draft, each condition filled with clues for a better direction.
We have the capacity to see more, to perceive our experiences as holding the ingredients to build what we want next; or we can focus on what appears lost.
Life provides answers – and we find them by recognizing all that we gain.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.