Do You Suffer More than Your Neighbor?
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Whose sorrow is like unto my sorrow?" Lamentations 1:12
Such is the language of the stricken soul, such the outbreak of feeling — when affliction darkens the horizon of man's sunny hopes, and dashes the full cup of blessings suddenly from the expectant lips!
"Console me not; you have not felt this pang," cries the spirit in agony, to the kind friend who is striving to pour the balm of consolation into the wounded heart.
"But I have known worse," is the reply.
"Worse! Never, never! No one could suffer more keenly than I now do!"
In vain the friend reasons. Sorrow is always more or less selfish; it absorbs all other passions; it consecrates itself to tears and lamentations, and the bereaved one feels alone — utterly alone in the world, and of all mankind, the most forsaken. Every heart knows its own bitterness, and there is a canker spot on every human plant in God's garden. Some are blighted and withered — ready to fall from the stalk; others are blooming — while a blight is at the root.
What right have you to say, because you droop and languish — that your neighbor, with a fair exterior and light deportment, is all that his appearance indicates? What evidence have you, that because you suffer from poverty, and your neighbor rides in his fine carriage — that he is, therefore, more abundantly blessed, more contentedly happy than you?
As you walk through the streets lined with costly and beautiful mansions, you feel vaguely, that, associated with so much of beauty, of magnificence and ease — there must be . . .
and constant happiness.
How deplorably mistaken you are!
Here, where gold and crimson drape the windows — is mortal sickness!
There, where the heavy shutters fold over the rich plate glass — lies shrouded death!
Here, where gold and crimson drape the windows — is mortal sickness!
There, where the gilded shutters fold over the rich plate glass — lies shrouded death!
Here, is blasted reputation!
There, is an untold and hideous grief!
Here, is blighted love, striving to look and be brave — but with a bosom corroded and full of bitterness!
There, is the sad conduct of a wayward child.
Here, is the terrible neglect of an unkind and perhaps idolized husband!
There, is the willful and repeated faults of an unfaithful wife!
Here, is dread of bankruptcy!
There, is dread of dishonor or exposure!
Here, is bitter hatred, lacking only the nerve to prove another Cain!
There, is silent and hidden disease, working its skillful fangs about the heart, while it paints the cheek with the very hue of health!
Here, is undying remorse in the heart of one who has wronged the widow and the fatherless!
There, is the suffering victim of foul slander!
Have you a worse grief than your neighbor? You think you have. You have buried your only child — but he has laid seven children in the tomb. Seven times has his heart been torn open — and his wounds are yet fresh!
Have you more trouble than your neighbor? You have lost your all. No, no — do not say so! Your neighbor has lost houses and lands — but his health has gone also! And while you are robust — he lies on the uneasy pillow of sickness, and then waits until a trusty hand bears the scanty meal to his parched lips.
Do you suffer more than your neighbor? True, you hardly have money enough for the bare necessaries of life; your children dress meagerly, and your house is scantily furnished; you do not know whether or not work will be forthcoming the following week.
Your neighbor has never seen poverty. House, wife and children are sumptuously provided for. His barn is a palace, compared to your poor hovel! Step into his parlor and look at him for a moment — velvet carpets yield to the step; luxurious chairs invite to rest. But check your sigh of envy! There is a ring of the doorbell — and a jarring thud against the polished door — and in bursts the rich man's son, his brow haggard, his eyes fierce and red. He is a notorious profligate — gambling is his food and drink, and debauchery is his glory and his ruin. Would you rather be that father?
Go back to your honest sons and look in their bright faces. Be even thankful that you are not burdened with corrupt gold, for their sakes. Never say again, that you suffer more than your neighbor!
Do you toil, young girl, from daylight to midnight — while the little sums eked out with frowns and reluctant fingers, hardly suffice to provide food and clothing for you? And the wife of your rich employer, who passes stranger-like by you, may sit at her marble dressing-table for hours, and retouch the faded brow of beauty before a gilded mirror. She may lounge at her palace window until she is weary of gazing, and being gazed at.
Do you envy your wealthier neighbor, young sewing-girl? Go to her boudoir, where pictures and statuary, silken hangings and perfumes delight every sense, and where costly robes are flung around with a profusion that betokens lavish expenditure.
Ask her whom she deems happiest, and she will point her jeweled finger towards you, and — if she speaks with honesty, she will tell you that for your singleness and free spirit — she would barter all her riches! The opera, where night after night the wealth of glorious voices is flung upon the air, until its every vibration is melody, and the spirit drinks it in as it would the incense of rare flowers — is to her not so exquisite a luxury — as the choice songs, warbled in a concert room, to which you may listen but few times in the year. Such pleasure palls in repetition on the common mind, for nature's favorites are among the poor; and gold, with all its magical power, can never attune the ear to music, nor the taste to an appreciation of that which is truly beautiful in nature or art.
Keep then your integrity — and you never need envy the wife of your employer. A round of heartless dissipation has sickened her of humanity; and if it were not for the excitement of outshining her compeers in the ranks of fashion — she would lay down her useless life tomorrow!
Mothers, worn out and enfeebled with work, laboring for those who, however good they may be, are at the best unable to pay you for you unceasing toil, unable to realize your great sacrifices. Do you look upon your neighbor who has more means and a few petted children — and wish that your lot was like hers? You pause often over your task, and think that it is greater than you can bear.
"Tell mothers," said a lady to us a short time ago, "who have their little ones around them, that they are living their happiest days; and the time will come when they will realize it. Tell them to bend in thankfulness over the midnight lamp, to smile at their ceaseless work and call it pleasure. I can but kneel in imagination by the distant graves of my children; they are all gone. Could I but have them beside me now, I would toil like a slave for them; I would think no burden too hard, no self-denial beyond my strength, if I might but labor for their good and be rewarded by their smiles and their love."
Then, in whatever situation we are, we should remember that even but a door from our own dwelling there may be anguish, compared with which — ours is but as the whisper of a breath, to the roll of the thunder. We do not say then, let us 'console' ourselves by the reflection that there are always those in the world who suffer keener afflictions than ourselves, "but let us feel that though our cup of sorrow may be almost full — there might be added many a drop of bitterness!" And never, never should we breathe the expression, "There is no sorrow like unto my sorrow!"