In high school I spent a lot of time at the home of friends who lived on acreage. As is the norm out in the country they had some cats, who had some cats, who had more cats. As you can imagine, there were always kittens around. I was over at their house one day when a few adolescent fluffballs, who were still on the scrawny side, played by the front door. They were tumbling and pouncing on each other and rolling in the dust. One of them, a white and grey speckled thing with plenty of downy fur, was more interested in those of us sitting on the stoop. She meowed insistently, doing little figure eights around our legs.
“What’s the matter little one?” I asked, as I scooped it up into my arms and looked into its watery blue eyes.
Next to me, Rebecca giggled. When I looked in her direction her brother, Sebastian, joined in. The curious thing is that they looked away from me while they did it.
“What?” I asked, as I stroked the kitten’s soft fur. It had settled down in my arms and started to purr.
“Nothing,” Rebecca said.
“What? What’s so funny?” I asked, looking at Sebastian.
He gave me his goofy grin, though it looked a little sheepish. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that cat’s name is Penny.”
“Yeah,” he said, looking at the dirt. “Because she whines so much.”
“Really?” I asked, though I was surprised anything came out at all.
“Yeah, you know, you have a tendency to whine a little more than the rest of us.”
“I do?” My voice was traitorously squeaky.
“Yeah,” they said, studiously avoiding my gaze. Thankfully, their Dad came out with a bowl of raspberries. As I reached for a handful I dropped the cat unceremoniously. Not missing a beat, it resumed its little pirouettes around my legs, meowing, no – whining. I did my best to ignore her.
I’m no longer in denial. I’m a recovering whiner, which means I’ll always have a tendency to whine when faced with a problem. It’s
simply much easier than to be a do-er. Look anywhere in the world and there is something wrong, and none of the problems have easy solutions. One response – my preferred option for most of college – is to rail against the huge gaps between the rich and poor, and child trafficking, and environmental degradation in pursuit of profit, all while patting ourselves on the back for how just and right our opinions are. Sadly, no one has ever accomplished anything really great simply by having good opinions. But they have been very proud of themselves, as I was.
Or, we can remember this quote by Teddy Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
That’s why I am a recovering whiner. Because even if I still spend some time wallowing in self-pity (old habits die hard), I more often try to find a way to do something. Because the difference between creating the world that we want to live in and the one we live in now is all about the difference between talking and doing.
Being called a whiner was a stinging blow, but I’m grateful to Rebecca and Sebastian for saying the hard thing. I do my best not to whine as much, but sometimes it’s hard when I see how screwed up the world is. At the very least, I’m glad to be in the arena, even if I come short again and again. If I accomplish nothing else, at least it keeps me humble, and we could use a lot more of that in this world.