The Problem With First-World Problems

The other month I found myself -- much to my surprise -- at a Weird Al Yankovic concert. I hadn't been looking for such an experience, but I've realized that participating in activities that sound "cool" to my teenage son is probably my best shot at seeming even remotely hip to him. This is when I discovered Weird Al's song about first-world problems in which he jokingly moans, "My Sonicare won't recharge, now I gotta brush my teeth like a Neanderthal. The thread count on these sheets has got me itching. My house is so big, I can't get Wi-Fi in the kitchen..." I couldn't help but recognize the relevance of these complaints. In the two months before, we had experienced a series of breakages in our home: The garage door spring snapped, the front door knob fell off, the dryer stopped working, the washer leaked, the vacuum's belt broke, lightening struck and blew out our internet router... even our mini-van wasn't spared when one of its tires went flat and its battery died. It was a ridiculous amount of things to go wrong, yet hard to complain about when I realized just how many objects we must own to be in a position to have so many of them break.

One of the biggest drawbacks to having a life filled with first-world problems is that our days can all too easily become consumed with unpleasant tasks -- the sorts of "to-do list" items that cause us to moan and feel the walls of our life closing in. This felt especially clear to me, soon after, while lying on a blanket looking up at a star-filled sky. The view reminded me of how vast the universe is and how good it feels to simply breathe and reconnect with nature. It made me think of an insight shared by poet David Whyte -- that possibly the reason some teenagers feel discouraged is that they see how burdened their parents are by all of the responsibilities they're tending to, and it depresses them to imagine that this is what awaits them in adulthood. I think my mind went to this as I lay under that sky with my husband and children because it was such a refreshing contrast to all the rushing around we had been doing the week before. It felt so much better to be exposing my teenagers to this as a way of living, as opposed to the familiar rush of darting between activities and errands.

The more I live life, the more I see how constricting a full calendar can be, not only in how it limits our open time, but also in how it limits the breadth of our perspective. I think this is a key reason why we need poetry and music and glimpses of wide skies... along with time and laughter with good friends and family. Without these things, life can so easily become consumed with completing chores, repairing items, and similar tasks that -- while mildly satisfying -- are also depressing when they take up too much space in life.

If we're lucky, we get to live days that are punctuated with reminders of what really matters. Sometimes these arrive on their own, like when our eye catches a tree's fall colors or a perfectly-shaped crescent moon appears through the window of our car. At other times, these reminders require more intentional planning, like choosing to sit down and turn our attention within before charging forth into our day. The arrival of fall is a wonderful time to reassess our relationship to doing and remembering, to fullness and simplicity, and -- maybe most importantly -- to how we want to approach the inevitable problems we'll encounter so that they don't eclipse our remembrance of how fortunate we are for the lives we're living.

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