One thing I have repeatedly encountered in Ukraine is the feeling that I have so. very. much. This is despite the fact that I am without many things that are considered by American standards to be necessities.
The other day I was leaving our building to run a quick errand. At the entrance to our apartment we have a guard booth where one of 3 elderly ladies sits on watch all day. In general, they help with checking on who’s going in and out of the building, calling the hotline for elevator repair (this happens frequently), passing along our mail, and so on.
The lady who was on guard that particular day was named Raya. (Ri-ya) As I passed I noticed that she had on a dark blue sweater. Nothing unusual there. But then I realized something.
It was the same blue sweater she had on last time. And the time before that. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her wear anything else.
Nearly every time I have seen or talked to her, she has been wearing that exact, nondescript, uninteresting, wooly blue sweater. And those same nondescript, uninteresting black pants too. Why?
That’s most likely all she has. Or the best of what she has.
Now, just recently I’ve been lamenting the state of my wardrobe. I’ve been out on several fruitless searches in thrift stores and clothes shops, seeking shining replacements for the uninteresting, nondescript items that are currently hanging at home.
But as Raya’s wooly blue sweater flashed before my mind’s eye, I realized that compared with her meager pickings, my wardrobe seems like a king’s closet.
I find myself complaining because I cannot fit all of our things neatly into our 750 sq. foot, 4-room apartment. But most of my Ukrainian friends live in only one room, flanked by a tiny kitchen and an even smaller bathroom. Those who are a little better off have 2 whole rooms in which to raise their family.
I may sigh inwardly about my well-used, mismatched furniture. But many of my friends don’t have any furniture at all, or what they do have doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to their landlord.
There is an elderly gentleman living in our building who regularly makes trips to the dumpsters to hunt for recyclable glass and cardboard. If we get a cardboard box, we set it out on the step for him. If he turns it in he can get a few “kopecs” (pennies) for it. This helps to subsidize his pension and put bread on the table.
I, on the other hand, have kopecs rolling around in drawers, coming out of pockets, and stacking up on dressers. What buys his bread is merely extra clutter at my house.
I’ve complained before because I can’t find whole wheat flour, purchase cranberry juice, or buy organically from the health food store. “If I were in America it would be so much easier to feed my family.” But while I eat heartily every day, most of the rest of the world struggles to eat at all, much less healthfully. And much of the rest of the world doesn’t have drinking water, either.
The point of this post is not to make us all feel bad on account of what we have. Nor is it to point out that we should be thankful because, after all, there is always someone worse off than we are.
The bottom line is that thankfulness is a matter of perspective. It has nothing to do with how much or how little one has. It has to do with whether your focus is on what you do have, or on what you don't. If we aren't thankful for what we have right now, we won't be thankful if we possess the moon.
So, is your glass half-empty, or half-full? I feel like mine’s running over.
I’ll keep looking for those shining wardrobe replacements. God has blessed me with more than a few kopecs to spend on them. And when I find them, I hope I’ll remember to say, “Thank you!”