On “Deserving”

This has to be one of the best periods of my life.  I have a job I love, doing work I find both meaningful and fun.  My colleagues are great.  I have a new apartment, and it’s the nicest one I’ve ever had.  I’m back in the city I love and am surrounded by my friends, and on top of all that, I’m writing and loving it.  Both putting down roots for the first time in my life, and yet still exploring, in some ways more so than ever.

My friends and family are great; they tell me I deserve it.

I take their words with appreciation, but it gets me thinking about that concept: “deserving.”

Deserving in Life

Do you believe we deserve what we get?  I don’t; not for a moment.  I can’t even fathom believing it.  Not in this joy-and-pain wracked world I’ve loved these past 30 odd years.

Someone was telling me the other day about the reason Jews fast on Tisha b’Av, a one-day holiday mourning the fall of the Temple.  He said we mourn because of the fall, yes, but the fast itself is actually  linked to something else entirely–penitence.

Why should Jews repent for Romans destroying a Jewish temple, you ask?  The reason is fascinating.

It’s because back then, shouldering the blame for this communal tragedy was the only way the rabbis could think to dissuade their flock from going the other direction and asking, “Why is God deserting us?” or worse yet, concluding, “God is dead.”

The same goes for the Church’s attitude in the Middle Ages to the Plague.  It couldn’t be explained–it was beyond their science to understand its source and rapid transmission–and rather than having people suffer a crisis of faith when faith was so central to this period (and its very social structure), the Church went with “God is punishing us for our sins.”  And who doesn’t have a sin or two spare for God to punish?

So religions pick on the concept of deserving.  God is good, God is with us–but because you turn your back on Him in your daily life, He let this happen.  Repent.

They consciously used the concept of deserving, which, when you think of it, is an integral thread in our fabric of social interaction.  That is, the concept of “you take care of me, and I’ll take care of you, because that is the contract of communal life.”  Whether one views it cynically or not, this communal support structure is necessary wherever life is unstable.  I certainly saw it in the villages of the Republic of Georgia.

But I didn’t start with Popes or rabbis long-gone desperately finding a way to not blame God and lose religion.  I started with my beautiful view, my exhilerating job, my wonderful friends, my health, my writing, and whether deserving has anything to do with those joys.  I certainly know I don’t deserve more than any other person.

When people starve in Somalia or the streets of New York City, do they deserve it?  When baby girls are mutilated in the name of religion or modesty, do they deserve it?  When people’s lives, families and sense of self are hacked wtih machetes in Rwanda or the Congo, do they deserve it?  Are they suffering for our collective sins, for the sins of their past lives, or their own stupiditiies–or whatever your personal theology or philosophy is?  I don’t believe it for a moment.

Deserving isn’t what life is.  Life is a snatch of miracle.  I try to enjoy it fully, for its joys are brief as they are sharply nuanced, and each second may fall into grief, doubt and pain, and even more definitely, into death.

As the old line goes: “Deem not the doom of man reversed for thee.”

People tell me I’m an optimist.  I answer that I’m a realist who loves life.  That death is at our doors is to me a reminder of the concentrated joy that our lives are, nestled between birth and passing.

Deserving in Writing

It occurs to me writing all this that indeed our personal philosophies impact our writing, whether or not we deliberately intend it.

My characters do not get their “just desserts.”  My characters struggle and suffer and grow and find new joys where they didn’t expect them.

It’s true, their ends aren’t written yet.  I can honestly say I do not know what will happen to my heroes and heroines, leave alone my antagonists.  And more than that, I have no plan in mind to have my antagonists suffer for their actions, or even for anyone to suffer in measure for the suffering he or she has put others through.

Because that’s not life.  And my characters are taking life, and…well, after all this–can I say they deserve to be more than caricatures?  🙂

Phong Dark Nights

Phong Dark Nights

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
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12 Responses to On “Deserving”

  1. Yarnspnr says:

    The term “deserving” is intertwined with many strongly held beliefs and therefor the definition will be colored by said beliefs and the answers will be as varied as the beliefs themselves.

    As I read your piece here, I was thinking, “But she’s looking only to the present life for for the answer of who’s deserving and who is not.” On top of that I thought about the obvious consequences of of one’s choices and the choices of others. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good, sometimes tragic. If we own our choices, do we not deserve the consequences of them? And could those consequences not stretch past the grave into future lives, both one’s own and those of others? Certainly the choices made by a man such as Hitler have touched generation after generation of people. Now do those people deserve that? If one believes the Bible, the consequences of reaping what one sews reach ahead ten generations. But the Bible also states that “time and chance befall us all.” That means stuff happens to us not out of any form of “deserving” but simply because we were in the right or wrong place at the time of occurrence.

    You’ve touched on a highly controversial subject that can’t be fleshed out in a comment box. 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      🙂 I’d love to read more on your own blog, should you decide to flesh it out. Does it come up in your own work?

      Regarding the afterlife, I decided not to mention it originally because I was discussing getting what one deserves in one’s lifetime. As you mention, there are many ways of viewing “deserving” and likewise, “the afterlife.”

      I focus entirely on life today in this moment. Acting in hopes for a future, yeah–can’t deny it–but not relying on it. And really, trying to live in the now, not stress about the unknown, etc. Because the present is the only thing I have. 🙂 Beyond the now, there is no certainty at all. To me. 🙂

      Regarding the Bible, even then the notion of “believing the Bible” has different interpretations, so I don’t reckon it’s necessarily a direct link to believing that “what we sow, we reap for ten generations.” That said, if one considers it purely in terms of causation, then yes, actions can manifest ripples for a long time, and one should think before one acts. And maybe that’s the main point behind that line.

      That said, I’m all with the “time and chance befall us all.” Where is that from? That to me–the truth of that–is why I reckon all we can do is love the moment/s we’re given. Despite circumstances as well as when things go well… 🙂

      Interesting topics you bring up. What do you reckon?

      • Yarnspnr says:

        On the ‘time and chance’ quote. It’s from Ecclesiastes 9:11 which states: “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” This from the NIV. There are other versions that put in somewhat differently, but the meaning doesn’t change. I’m no Bible scholar, nor am i any kind of religious nut. I know my way around the book as well as I know my way around many faiths and cults. But if you’re interested in what man is supposed to do here on earth (you’d be an odd Christian because they’re more interested in life in Heaven than here on Earth) read Ecclesiastes. It’s a short book but it contains some truly interesting subject matter like don’t be overly righteous and when you pray, make it short and not too often. I won’t tell you where these things are located but they’re easily found.

        Now regarding the first part of your comment, I was more focused on the “beforelife” rather than the “afterlife.” But that’s a concept that blows people’s minds. They either want to know what royalty they were or the chuck the whole idea as being to ‘Eastern’.

        As for my using some Bible principles in ‘Myth’ yes I do. The idea of the unique family system of the Vigroth cords comes from another passage in Ecclesiastes which states: Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

        Don’t mind me. I’ve learned a lot of wacky information over the years. It spills out in my novels! 🙂

        • sputnitsa says:

          Hm, sounds like I should put Ecclesiastes on my reading list.

          I’m doing some reading now into the Middle Ages for my own book and the sections on social behavior and the Church (both separately and intertwined) are fascinating.

          As for me, being Jewish, I’m no Christian at all. 🙂 So neither an odd nor a typical Christian, although I bet “typical” is ever-changing anyway in both religious streams.

          I went for a visit to the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York the other day–the largest gothic cathedral in the world, if I understand correctly–and it was FASCINATING. They have a section commemorating American writers (?!), an alcove depicting the fate of the world which shows images of deforestation and war (with modern vehicles, etc), a section highlighting Eastern Orthodox iconic art… It was sort of an amalgam of venerations or reminders. It was so…unexpected. The glass windows were sometimes quite lovely, and the smaller chapels, too. The mix of artistic styles was sometimes great and sometimes jarring. Very unusual.

          Wacky info is interesting and great. There are some books which simply have great literature and thoughts contained within, and religious works definitely figure among them.

          I’m reading Dante right now although I threw him aside years gone by because I resented his bringing politics into religion. His language is just too beautiful to ignore. And that’s just the translation; I can’t imagine how amazing he must be in the original.

  2. ralfast says:

    People tell me I’m a pessimist, I tell them that I am a realist that knows better. 🙂

  3. This was such a beautiful post.

    I could relate to this very well: “People tell me I’m an optimist. I answer that I’m a realist who loves life. That death is at our doors is to me a reminder of the concentrated joy that our lives are, nestled between birth and passing. ”

    I call myself an optimistic realist. Hope for the best, have faith in its fruition, but prepare for the worst just in case. And death is probably my greatest motivater. Its reality makes me try to enjoy everyday. Especially the small little joys.

    And I don’t think of it as deserving or not. One shouldn’t feel guilty for having good things happen to them. Nor should one feel that they deserve it when bad luck befalls them. It’s life. Things happen. We just have to do the best we can.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Danke!

      Yup, I utterly agree–death is an inspiration to live thoroughly. And amen to the smaller joys. 🙂 The ability to see and appreciate them is so key to living life happy–for me, at least. 🙂

  4. Yarnspnr says:

    Regarding: “I’d love to read more on your own blog, should you decide to flesh it out. Does it come up in your own work?”

    I’ve started a new blog for info like this. The address is yarnspnr2.wordpress.com and it’s called “Around the Block”.

    There are no entries yet but the ‘about around the block’ tab gives info on what will be there. This will give us (and anyone else who wants to chime in) a place to chat about subjects like what you brought up here.

    Enjoy!

  5. J says:

    OK, I said I would respond to this, but it requires far more thought than I am capable of these days. However, I did say I would write something, so here it goes…

    It is very easy for your friends to say you “deserve” the good things you are receiving because you have done such amazing things for others. You aren’t in the least bit selfish. That being said, we all know amazing people who for some reason get cancer, or get in a car accident, or can’t afford the things they need to live. Do those amazing people deserve the “bad things” they get? Most likely not, but it depends on how you define those bad things (I know define isn’t the right word here, but I am too tired to think of the correct one!).

    Here’s my take (which isn’t so original). People get back what they put out in the world. Is that “deserving”? I don’t know…maybe the word “deserving” is the issue – it’s an easy term to use to describe a much more complicated idea.

    Who knows? I just know I deserve a day off to rest and relax. Why do I deserve this? Because I’m a good person, that’s why 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      Do you choose your icon? Your poor icon looks exhausted too! 🙂

      Anyway, to deserving: You DO deserve a day off to rest and relax. 🙂 Maybe what you need to put in to the world to get that is a request for a day off 🙂 🙂

      I don’t know. I tell you what I think–that the whole getting out what we put in isn’t about stuff like health or prosperity, but maybe it’s about spirit. Like the joy we put in is the joy we get out. *shrug* Maybe. 🙂

      Take off the day and relax! 🙂

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