“And what,” I asked myself, “had prevented Laura from being jealous of the rich Olson family?”
After only a moment’s thought, I decided she had absorbed four principles she saw in her parents’ lives, ones I should have copied from my own parents. Laura’s parents, and my own parents, had taken the attitude of: don’t complain; don’t compare; be patient with difficult circumstances; and enjoy what you have.
I looked at the four principles I had written and drew four smiley faces beside them. There were many material things I would likely never be able to give Sharon, but I could, with God’s help, give her the gift of an unjealous heart.
I took a deep breath, brushed the damp hair back from my forehead, and frowned as I looked upward at a glob of wet bread crumbs clinging to my bangs. I sighed, removed the offending particles from my hair, and looked at the two notes taped to the door of the kitchen cabinet: Don’t complain. Be patient with difficult circumstances.
Sweat trickled down my back and the asynchronous chugging of the little fan on the floor in the corner reminded me of an episode in the biography of Pappy Boyington, a World War II flying ace. A Japanese pilot had tinkered with the carburetor of his plane’s engine so it ran with an irregular rhythm, almost stalling out, then revving up, whirring steadily for a while, then nearly stalling out again. By flying his specially adapted plane with its irritating carburetor over the camp at intervals through the night, he had successfully kept the Americans on the South pacific island where Boyington was stationed from obtaining a good night’s sleep for three weeks.
“That plane couldn’t have been more infuriating than this fan,” I thought as I turned back to molding hamburger patties.
When you make up your mind to change an entrenched behavior, common wisdom says the hardest part of the battle is over. Reality says, with roaring authority, that an even harder part awaits, slinking stealthily along, two days ahead of your good intentions. There, behind a rock it crouches, fangs bared and claws unsheathed, ready to pounce when you’re tired and discouraged, hungry and hurried, or whatever combination of circumstances and feelings has previously conquered your will. In my fight to stop my entrenched behavior of complaining, dealing with cramped living quarters was the hardest battle of the war.
Our apartment was small, consisting of one bedroom and one bath, a tiny laundry area, and a front room that, with the demarcating aid of a floor-to-ceiling room divider, served as living room and kitchen. Up to waist height, the room divider was solid on the kitchen side, with book shelves on the living room side. From waist height up, it held open, etagere style shelves, with the center completely open.
Behind the room divider, the kitchen area, or what was actually a kitchenette, to be architecturally correct, occupied the back third of the front room; it measured seven by 11 feet. Along the back wall of the kitchen stood our eggshell-white refrigerator, countertop, and range, with an oven underneath the range. Even though it could have been otherwise by virtue of being so far away from windows, the kitchen was a bright area of our little house. The white refrigerator and cabinets and those two long banks of fluorescent lights in the ceiling added and enhanced the available light.