I went to MPH recently and saw a novel's title that caught my attention. On its front cover, it reads: "The best thing that never happened to me." Granted some indulgence, I would like to answer that title with two "best things" that never happened to me. This is personal to me and may seem to be contrarian in logic. So here goes.
1) The best thing that never happened to me is to have unimaginable wealth and fame. And I am rather thankful it never did and here's why. I know the saying that it is often those who are struggling in life that decry riches and fame. It is sort of an envious/jealous/self-defeating complaint. I call it the sour-grapes syndrome.
Well, there is some truth in that. I am no doubt struggling in some existential way but I choose to believe that it is a forward-driving struggle. If anything, it is the good struggle. As for the envious and jealous bit, it is not devoid of any truth either. I do sometimes make the comparison and stew in less than complimentary ways. If envy rots the soul, then my soul is part-rotting and part-overcoming. If stupid does as stupid does, then human does as human does too and I am no different.
Having come forward with my flaws, here's my point. Riches and fame are the best thing that can happened to anyone, period. Who can dispute that? Only the self-righteous fool would I guess. But what if it is not that simple? What if riches and fame bring with them more than one can handle? Well, for one thing, I would at this moment not know and may not ever know. And there are no doubt rich and famous people out there who are making a positive difference in this world.
But to me, riches and fame are highly transformative. They can be empowering and corrupting at the same time. While I am writing this holding my prejudices close to my chest, I am well aware of how riches and fame can change this world for the better. Honestly, I can only speculate how a rich and famous me would end up. My fear is embodied in this reply by Gandhi when he was once asked, "What if you were granted the power to change the world?" And he said, "I would immediately ask for the power to renounce that power." And we all know that with power comes riches and fame.
I think Gandhi has got a point in that reply. He is talking about the emotional/spiritual entrapment that comes with de facto omnipotence. With riches and fame, we may wilfully erect a prison of our own making while overestimating our power to breakout from it. In any event, aren't we often least prepared for the things we thought we are most prepared for?
Riches and fame are the emotional beasts of the most sublime cultural creation. They can give power to you when you want it only to deny you the same power to deny it when you need it most. And you need it most when your "wants" mutates into a form of self-corruption and what you need is the self-discipline to rein in this runaway beast. Alas, it is my humanity that desires what my own humanity may find most trying to tame. And for this reason, riches and fame are the best thing that can happen to me, which at the same time restrains me because it may not be what I hope it would be when I come full circle. The whole process may be self-sabotaging. Logical?
This may be an exercise in pretentiousness on my part but as of now, in my current station in life (married with 3 children), I am no doubt charmed (or seduced) by the idea of being rich and famous but am at the same time treating it with suspicion that it may just be too good to be true. So, I am nevertheless thankful for what I have today because I'd rather be free knowing I have enough than not ever knowing what it means to be free when enough is never enough.
2) The best thing that never happened to me is a better marital partner. The contrarian logic gets even weirder here so strap up. And this is the tricky bit because I am clearly married with three offspring I can't live without. I renounced my singlehood 15 years ago (and still counting). I may not be alone here but I suspect that there are married men out there who have secretly and discreetly wished at some point in their marriage that they had married someone else - if they are blatantly honest of course.
Wait, this is not an indictment on their stellar marital record of faithfulness and devotion. In fact, I would not be surprised if their wives had at some point in their marriage felt the same way too (blatant honesty cuts both ways). But I guess compelling love and personal civility prevented them from full and candid disclosure. Some secrets naturally die with us because without them, our funeral would be less of a "happier" occasion.
So, I can easily imagine a better marital partner from my current wife. Underscore "better". For reasons of privacy, I shan't disclose here what qualities my hypothetical "better partner" would have that my current wife doesn't have. And I suspect the feelings are discreetly mutual. She would want a better partner too. You see, the childhood idealism in us dies hard and many of us can't honestly say that we have married our soul mate except to take that profession at face value. Soul mates are more the exception than the rule. For the rest of us, marital reality sometimes gnaws with passing time.
But here is my point and it comes with unapologetic idealism. I married the first girl I fell in love with. It was like I threw in the bait and she happened to be swimming nearby. And without examining the bait, she swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Lucky throw I guess. We have issues no doubt. We are still dealing with them in our own way. 15 years and counting may be a long time from the perspective of an unmarried person but marriage is a time-distorting prism and one brief year under one roof may just feel like five long ones. You do the maths with 15 years.
So, this journey is long if one has no plans to pack up and switch ride. And love is often a local anesthesia which somehow numbs the heart at the altar and its effects fade off fast after the honeymoon period is over. Painful adjustments aside, my wife and I are in this together. This is our covenantal commitment. And if there is any change that I need to make, it is not a change of partner but a change of self. A better marital partner may be the best thing that never happened to me, but still I would not trade my wife for anyone else. Why?
For the simplest reason that the prospect of betterment is not a prospect that I relish if it is not with someone whom I had courted for 9 years, married for the last 15, started a family for the last 12, gone through much together and understood even more, and most of all, shared intimacy in a way that I can't imagine with another.
You can say that I'd got the first mover advantage. This is not a matter of semantics but it is a matter of devotion and passion because my wife is not replaceable. Our experiences are not reproducible. Our passion is not reducible. Our struggles are therefore intimate only to us. In the end, she is unique and I choose to believe that I am unique to her too. This is an immutable fact of our relationship that no amount of going back to the past can change.
If anything, it would be a different partner, better maybe, but never the same. "Better" is a relative term here prejudiced by my own current subjective experiences. See, I told you, contrarian logic because the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. And most of all, with bias in my heart that may be identified as passion, commitment and devotion, this "better partner" would just not be the Anna whom I love. Period. Cheerz.