A Non-Fairy Story — The Universe Isn’t Fair
Once upon a time, a long time ago when I was a young child I thought that the universe was fair. I never believed the Sunday-school stories, but I did think that people were good and could be trusted. It never occurred to me that there were people out there who would want to hurt me; not by accident, but by design.
I don’t understand why that should be the case; clearly, Red Riding Hood taught me nothing. Wicked stepmothers belonged only in fairy tales. At what point does a child understand the difference between fact and fiction? Does it coincide with the realisation that Santa Claus doesn’t exist?
At seven years’ old I was still naïve, despite already being bullied in the school playground because of my shyness or some other perceived difference. Maybe I still believed in Santa, I don’t remember. My world was limited to white, middle-class families with a father working and a mother at home. Anything else brought shame and was talked about in hushed euphemisms when the adults thought that the children weren’t listening. I felt that happiness was a right. I had an entitlement.
Then, like a magician’s flash, everything changed in an instant. My mother died and almost immediately was replaced by the archetypal wicked stepmother. The words my grandmother must have regretted, driven to despair as she was, when an eight year old was bugging her, burned deep into my soul. “You are so naughty. No wonder your mother left you.”
For a long time, I still believed that the universe was fair. Clearly, I was being punished for something and I deserved it. It was my fault that my mother died. I would have to pay the price. That price was my stepmother.
I can’t pin point the exact moment when I came to the realisation that the universe is not fair. I imagine that it was a slow progression rather than a Road to Damascus moment. It was coupled with the understanding that the only person you can rely on is yourself. I built my island; let the bastards do their worst. I was thirteen.
Which is worse: the naivety of expecting everything to be good, or the certainty that everyone is out to do you harm? Trust or suspicion? Faith would have been a useful crutch; but with what I was going through how could anyone believe in a god of love? Why would someone want to be my friend? So that they could stab me in the back later. Better not to have any friends.
Something else my grandmother said, but she said this often and meant it, “Count your blessings, there are many people worse off than we are.” She knew that it wasn’t fair that a young boy had lost his mother and she had been replaced by an evil witch, but that there were people far worse off in the world. I think I realised that too. I was seventeen. I lost my sense of entitlement and I stopped blaming myself for my mother’s death. I realised that the universe is not fair; humans can be both good and bad; and I realised that God was just like Santa Claus.
And 40 years later, having experienced the good and the bad; the love and the hatred; the kindness of strangers and the betrayal of friends; winning and losing; joy and tragedy; acceptance and prejudice; law and chaos I realise that there is no ‘happy ever after’. Happiness can be found in any situation. Possessions and money are no guarantee of happiness, indeed they cause more uncertainty. There is no happy ending; the best we can hope for is to find some balance in life and a peaceful death.