Luxury Problems

04/11/2013 05:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2013
  • Robert Levithan Psychotherapist, Writer and Expert on vital aging and living with illness

I faced death. Today, I am facing taxes again. Death was easy...

As I often do, I remind myself that today I have "luxury problems" -- those of us who have faced death and survived may be somewhat better equipped to keep life's inconveniences in perspective. A year from now, will I even remember what I've been stressing about today? Usually not.

Recently, I was riding my Segway uptown to meet my 87-year-old aunt for lunch to celebrate her recent and my upcoming birthdays. As I pondered my iffy choice not to wear gloves on a chilly April afternoon, I failed to notice a rather inconvenient pothole, which destabilized my ride, and in a matter of seconds I was lying on my back in the street. I knew I was not significantly injured. But I was shaken. In seven years, this was only my second fall -- and that time, after the Halloween parade, I was perhaps in a slightly-altered state. Stone sober at 1 p.m., I am not supposed to be lying in the gutter. A charming couple helped me up, and we laughed it off as I assured them and myself that I was in one piece. I got back on my ride -- the proverbial horse -- and rode 50 blocks to lunch with Tante Lil. We toasted with coffee and iced tea to the wonder that we are both here. She is the only one in her immediate family to make 80. I outlived AIDS almost two decades ago. She believes that the two years she spent in a hospital as a teenager probably gave her skills that enabled her to deal with many challenges over the years. Most recently, she "decided" to recover from an accident that might have finished a less-accomplished survivor. We salute our stubbornness.

Outliving one's crisis allows for an appreciation of the quotidian. I still get caught up in
worries about money, romance and career. The first time I had "a bad hair day" after a critical illness, I was disappointed in myself. I have come to understand that our petty issues do not leave permanently, but that we can joke them away or use them as fodder for compassionate introspection.

When I found out I had bedbugs a couple of years ago, I was beside myself, until I happened to turn on the TV and see the Tsunami that very day in Japan. I had a luxury problem. There is an Indian proverb: "I wept that I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet." Everything is relative.

I practice gratitude as a way to shore up my coping muscles. Whatever is happening, whatever the challenge, there are people and resources to be grateful to and for. We can start by being grateful to ourselves for even seeing the possibility of gratitude.

Today: My apartment is small. My dog is getting old. I have deadlines to meet. And I am very fortunate: I only have luxury problems.

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