How deplorably mistaken you are!
(Timothy Shay Arthur, "Do You Suffer More than Your Neighbor?" 1856)
"Whose sorrow is like unto my sorrow?" Lamentations 1:12
Such is the language of the stricken soul, such the outbreak of feeling — when affliction darkens the horizon of man's sunny hopes, and dashes the full cup of blessings suddenly from the expectant lips!
"Console me not; you have not felt this pang," cries the spirit in agony, to the kind friend who is striving to pour the balm of consolation into the wounded heart.
"But I have known worse," is the reply.
"Worse! Never, never! No one could suffer more keenly than I now do!"
In vain the friend reasons. Sorrow is always more or less selfish; it absorbs all other passions; it consecrates itself to tears and lamentations, and the bereaved one feels alone — utterly alone in the world; and of all mankind, the most forsaken. Every heart knows its own bitterness, and there is a canker spot on every human plant in God's garden. Some are blighted and withered — ready to fall from the stalk; others are blooming — while a blight is at the root.
What right have you to say, because you droop and languish — that your neighbor, with a fair exterior and light deportment, is all that his appearance indicates? What evidence have you, that because you suffer from poverty, and your neighbor rides in his fine carriage — that he is, therefore, more abundantly blessed, more contentedly happy than you?
As you walk through the streets lined with costly and beautiful mansions, you feel vaguely, that, associated with so much of beauty, of magnificence and ease — there must be . . .
and constant happiness.
How deplorably mistaken you are!
Here, where gold and crimson drape the windows — is mortal sickness!
There, where the gilded shutters fold over the rich plate glass — lies shrouded death!
Here, is blasted reputation!
There, is an untold and hideous grief!
Here, is blighted love, striving to look and be brave — but with a bosom corroded and full of bitterness!
There, is the sad conduct of a wayward child.
Here, is the terrible neglect of an unkind and perhaps idolized husband!
There, is the willful and repeated faults of an unfaithful wife!
Here, is dread of bankruptcy!
There, is dread of dishonor or exposure!
Here, is bitter hatred, lacking only the nerve to prove another Cain!
There, is silent and hidden disease, working its skillful fangs about the heart, while it paints the cheek with the very hue of health!
Here, is undying remorse in the heart of one who has wronged the widow and the fatherless!
There, is the suffering victim of foul slander!
Have you a worse grief than your neighbor? You think you have. You have buried your only child — but he has laid seven children in the tomb. Seven times has his heart been torn open — and his wounds are yet fresh!
Have you more trouble than your neighbor? You have lost your all. No, no — do not say so! Your neighbor has lost houses and lands — but his health has gone also! And while you are robust — he lies on the uneasy pillow of sickness, and then waits until a trusty hand bears the scanty meal to his parched lips.
Do you suffer more than your neighbor? True, you hardly have money enough for the bare necessaries of life; your children dress meagerly, and your house is scantily furnished; you do not know whether or not work will be forthcoming the following week.
Your neighbor has never seen poverty. House, wife and children are sumptuously provided for. His barn is a palace, compared to your poor hovel! Step into his parlor and look at him for a moment — velvet carpets yield to the step; luxurious chairs invite to rest. But check your sigh of envy! There is a ring of the doorbell — and a jarring thud against the polished door — and in bursts the rich man's son, his brow haggard, his eyes fierce and red. He is a notorious profligate — gambling is his food and drink, and debauchery is his glory and his ruin. Would you rather be that father?
Go back to your honest sons and look in their bright faces. Be even thankful that you are not burdened with corrupt gold, for their sakes. Never say again, that you suffer more than your neighbor!