In the past few months I have been in contact with several members of a club that until recently I did not know even existed. These people are not identified by a secret handshake, a tattoo, or a uniform. Membership seems to be tied only slightly to heredity, and the people in this club are made, not born. It takes years and years for full membership to become evident because nearly nothing differentiates these people from their happy neighbors.
I think the name of the club is Bitterness.
These are the men and women who have been blessed beyond measure, and yet are not happy. They have families (until they drive them away by correcting, pontificating, prescribing and pick-pick-picking). They have houses and cars and jobs and food enough and to spare. They live in nice neighborhoods, and it bothers them if the front of the house doesn't look like it belongs there. Most are married - but I have met a few single members of the club. I do not think I have encountered a member who did not have health insurance - the good kind - the kind that actually pays for medical care.
(I haven't read that book, but the cover is perfect.)
See, the only qualifying attribute for the members of this club is that they do not want what they have. They always do have. They have stuff, and they are surrounded by people who love them, and they have many ways in which they could be useful and helpful in the world. They are not bitter because they do not have (that's a different club).
I'm not sure when the single members get their first invitation to the club, but the married members seem to be invited sometime in their thirties. The first flush of youth is past, full adulthood is supposed to be achieved, and children have probably entered the picture. I know that's when my first invitation arrived. It comes folded into the swaddling blankets of a newborn, and it wafts through the house and blooms like an algae when the conditions are right.
Who is this kid? Were you like that?
No, but I didn't get the chance to be.
Well, I didn't even want to be! This child is driving me nuts.
Nothing we do works. We've tried everything.
(That's a tell, by the way. When you assert that you have "tried everything," you sound just as silly as if you said, "I never do that," or "I always know." If you hear yourself saying, "I've tried everything," you're ripe for some new information. I recommend taking it.)
It's the individuality of the spouse, or the child, or perhaps even the long-time "best friend" that sends us the invitation. People do this to us. They frustrate our longings, and disappoint our expectations, and teach us that we are not as powerful as we want to be. Mothers freak out ... and remake the beds their children made, schedule more activities, get the difficult child some counseling, hound and pick and fuss the household dad into distraction or anger, forbid certain clothing or reading material, put the kids on stage - or keep them in the house. Father freak out and find messes instead of happiness when they come home from work, complain about the unfairness of it all, or wonder why no one is loyal or why all their hard and clever work is so underappreciated. Men and women with homes and jobs and families and health and stuff and opportunity descend into despondency - and try to claw their way out by being powerful with those who are closest. It is as if the spores of the Bitterness Club bloom. The people breathe in the toxins.
And the would-be members develop lung spots because when they breathe out again they retain the one requirement for the club. First, foremost, always, and ever, the members of the club are Never Wrong. If you have met someone who never says, "I could be wrong," or more tellingly, "I was utterly in the wrong. Completely. I'm so sorry" ... if you've met a person who does not know how to talk like that, you have met a member of the club.
Recently, I have watched several people, men and women both, declare their membership in the club. I have wondered why. I've been thinking.
I think it might be because there is a great temptation for the self-made man and the socially successful woman believe their own shtick. They have begun to believe they are living in "god mode." If over time, a person starts to believe that the reason he got what he got was his personal ingenuity, cleverness and fortitude, and not at all any other people's work, forbearance, or provision, then he has outwitted the fates and tricked his fellow humans into going along with the plan. Who can outwit the fates? Gods can. And gods have no intimacy with mere humans. Gods are very lonely beings. It must be tough to be a myth; but for the Bitterness Club, it seems that it is even tougher to be just one of the humans.