The Great Book of Unfairness


A friend of a friend decided that there really should be a Great Book Of Unfairness. And that people should write down everything that is unfair in this Great Book and let it go. So she set forth to do that. She passed the book along to some of her friends to pass along and send back. It wound up with my friend. And in the fullness of time, my friend passed it along to me and told me that I had a week or so – and one page.

The Great Book of Unfairness came to me in a big black briefcase. Like the kind someone’s dad used to carry to The Office in the 1960s. The book is the size of a Houston telephone directory, it was bound, black, hardcover, with bright endpages with quotes. You could say the book was heavy with the burden of unfairness.

About 60 people had written in it. Some wrote one word. Some filled their page.  Someone just doodled around their paragraphs and daydreamed about what they wanted to say. Someone almost tore a hole in his page trying to erase something that maybe wasn’t that unfair after all.

Day One: What a great idea, and I am glad I get a chance to write in it. I have a lot to say. I need to gather my thoughts. Only one page? Will I have room?

Day Two: Granted, it’s a big page but where do I begin.  I should write in small print so it will all fit. I probably should write with a pencil with a very sharp point in good handwriting. I can use that good box of Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils. My handwriting used to be good but I’ve gotten out of practice since I rarely write words with a pen anymore, unless you count the occasional signature on one of those screens at the grocery store when they say credit or debit, or doodles on the side of an agenda as my mind wanders in stifling meeting.

Day Three: Organize, I think. Don’t waste this opportunity.

My head spins as I think about how to put the unfairnesses in order.


By level of importance- or greatness?

Alphabetically? I am sort of blocked. I cannot think of an “A” unfairness that is worthy of this list. Wait, I just thought of one.

Day Four: I know – How about if I start with the self-created rule of promising to let go of the personal unfairnesses that I write on My Page. Will I be able to do that? Do I want to make such a commitment?

Day Five: Should I begin with those unfairnesses that have fallen on me personally, or those of a more global magnitude? I’m thinking it would be a little unfair to have to give up my page to those big picture things. But then again, it is sort of a big page.

Day Six: Maybe I should divide the list into columns: Personal unfairnesses | General unfairnesses | Global unfainesses | Historic unfairnesses | Friends and Family Unfairnesses …

Day Seven: Has it been a week? Where has the time gone? I am starting to feel panicked and a little guilty for not doing this already. Maybe I should just write one sentence and draw some stars and circles around it and let it go. Things will slow down tomorrow. I will do it then.

Day Eight: No. I cannot just scrawl out a sentence and send this book on its way. This is My Chance. Not just for me, but for my friends who don’t get to write in this. I am going to sit down and start that list tonight.

Day Nine: Maybe I should not have started a “draft” list on a legal pad with a pencil. Lessons learned: Unfairnesses are hard to categorize. It is hard to come up with equal numbers for the Personal list and the Global list and the Historic list. And when my personal list starts to get long, I feel obligated to add those poor children with cleft palates in the ads in the Reader’s Digest, and people who don’t get Morton’s Iodized Salt so they get big ol’ swollen goiters on their necks, and wildabeasts that get run down by lions and die painful deaths. And while those are huge unfairnesses, they seem sort of generic and general, and they seem to diminish some of my personal unfairnesses… and then all of a sudden my pencil is getting dull again.

Day Ten: Maybe I ought to just use a nice roller ball pen and just push on through with a few random thoughts and scratch out and make edit marks when I mess up and when I get to the end of the page, I should just close the book and let it go. I am starting to think that I am overthinking this opportunity.

I have to start somewhere. It’s my turn. It’s my page. So don’t judge me. That would be unfair. *I really do have a strong social conscience, and I am sorry for all those things in the world that are unfair that are too many to list here.

I am going to start at the beginning of my life and use this whole page and let go of the things I write about.

… to be the firstborn child of an 18 year old girl who deserved much more. And before she knows it, that mom is raising three kids by herself, and then she is 34, and has a 16 year old daughter who is getting to do things she never got the chance to do. But it’s not fair. She’s only 34 – or 36 or 40… .   No matter how successful the mother’s life may become, she can not get past the youth she sacrificed.  It’s not her daughter’s fault. And to be fair, it’s not her fault either. From a distance it’s easy to see the problem and to rationalize how to heal and improve relationships, and believe it is not too late. But up close, things blur out of focus and lots of lines are crossed. Someone owes someone something. Or maybe no one owes anything at all. And no one quite knows how to let it go – or hold on. Unfair.

… to try to not make mistakes with my kids. To read all the books on parenting and relationships , and debate whether to use cloth or disposables, or schedule feedings or feed on demand, or piano lessons or t-ball, or television or books, and believe with all my heart that I am doing the best job I can do – and then to suddenly have grown children and see as clear as day, all the mistakes I made, and feel sick about it, and wish with all my heart for a do-over. My greatest fear is that my children will resent me for not being the parent they deserved. I know now that I could have done better. I read somewhere that a parent only gets 936 Sundays between the time a child is born and he or she reaches the age of 18, to spend quality time doing something worthwhile. Boy, I wasted a lot of those days. And I didn’t do that great of a job some of the time. But there are no do-overs. Unfair.

…to finally find the great love of my life and truly know that if I get to spend fifty years with him, it won’t be long enough. To know that his was my last first kiss and that THIS really is happily ever after. And know that we won’t get fifty years. That we might not get twenty years, and we have already had almost eight years of this. And to wake up sometimes and wonder what life was like before US. And if I will be able to accept the inevitable with grace, thanksgiving, and Winnie-the-Pooh and Dr. Seuss-esque platitudes like “Don’t be sad because it’s over. Be happy because it happened.” Is this an unfairness? Maybe not. But it is a useless worry that is far beyond my realm of control. So I am going to put it here and try to let it go. Unfair.

…to have let myself go. To carry an extra 40 pounds and to not have the willpower to make a life change. To know rationally that all things would be better if I invested more time in self-improvement and less time in self-destruction or laziness, but not having the core drive, motivation and self direction or whatever it is that some people have – to make that change. Unfair? Maybe that is not the word I am looking for.  

When it comes to tying knots in a length of ribbon to let go of my worries, or writing words on a page to let go of unfairness, maybe my list is not as long as I thought it would be, after all. Maybe I don’t need a whole page in this book after all. In the big picture, my unfairnesses are couched in good fortune. I have a mother who wanted to fight for me almost as much as she fought with me. I have children who, if you asked them, probably think I did okay by them, at least today. I have a husband who loves me, and we both recognize and cherish our good fortune to have found one another. We know our time together is precious and try to make every minute count. And I am going to see what I can do about that self-improvement thing. Writing those words in this book  is a giant step forward.

While I am not an overly evangelical person, I have been, for the most part,  what can be deemed a “good Episcopalian.” And for anyone has read this far into my trivial list of unfairnesses, I want to share this benediction that my friend and priest, Ben Nelson offers: “Friends, our time here is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those around us. So be quick to love. Make haste to be kind, and be assured that God is infinitely more concerned with our future than our past.”

And I think that’s fair.

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I wrote most of this essay in 2012 – after my week with The Book. A young friend is going through a rough patch right now and I told her a little about it. I went back to find this essay and update it. And today – three years later, I have learned that it helped to make that list, to  write all of that unfairness down. And let it go. Glue the page together. Burn it in a fire pit. Tear it into tiny pieces and scatter them to the wind.   Or just save a file in the bowels of your computer.   Did the unfairness go away? Did everything get better? Well, yes and no. Butterflies are not circling my head. But since the day I closed that book, I feel stronger and happier and – I guess “at peace” with unfairness. It’s out there. In a book. In a briefcase. Somewhere. Just one page of many contributed by people who have had much bigger and somewhat smaller and louder and quieter unfairnesses in their lives. And three years later, I am glad I saved this essay and dusted it off to read again.

I told my young friend to get a journal and write her list of unfair things in it. And then glue the pages shut. And to keep writing – and doodling – and dreaming. And in the midst of her to do lists and dreams and plans and wishes and wants, to start writing one good thing every day.

And for those good things, she can have all the pages she wants.

Listening to: I Had A Real Good Time by Delbert McClinton.