My brother, a fourth grade teacher, starts off his year every year with a story about our mean sister.
He says, "I have a sister who is really mean. She has one girl and three younger boys. She treats this girl like a princess. My sister dresses her little girl in the nicest clothes, like a princess. The boys all have chores, but the girl just lays around all day. She doesn't have to do any chores. If the boys want to whistle in the room she's in, and she doesn't like it, they always have to stop. If the boys are watching a TV show, and the girl doesn't like it, the boys have to turn off the TV."
At this point in the story, the boys are all saying, "Your sister is really mean. How can she be that unfair?" Then, my brother proceeds with the rest of the story.
"I told you my sister was mean, but let me tell you a little bit about my niece. My niece has been really sick her whole life. She can't run or play. When her brothers and parents went to Disneyland, my niece couldn't go. She had to stay home because she wouldn't have any fun at Disneyland. She has to eat Pediasure all the time. She's never tasted good food. She can't swallow, so she has to eat through a tube in her stomach."
At this point, none of the boys are angry with my sister any more, and a few of the girls are even crying for how sad they are for my little niece.
Then, my brother puts things in perspective. "Sometimes, things don't seem fair. I might not talk to someone about something I talked to you about. That's because I know things about people that you don't know. Some of those things are none of your business. Sometimes, things won't seem fair, but in the end, I'm trying to help everyone do as well as every person can do. Please be patient with me and don't complain to me about fairness."
He said that once he's started telling this story at the first of the year, he doesn't hear complaints from the kids about fairness anymore. These are fourth graders, and this is one age where their sense of justice is strong. However, in the end, sometimes, punishing every child with the same punishment wouldn't be fair because of other ways that life has made people unequal from the beginning.
I have been thinking about that since my brother gave this talk at this niece's funeral on Saturday. She had some wonderful talents that no one else ever had. But at the same time, she really struggled and fought for every cry she made and all the time she lived in her body. God is a merciful and just God. At the same time, he wants us to fulfull our potential, so he gave each of us our own set of problems. Sometimes, we think things aren't fair. Someone else gets something that we don't have. At the same time, that person has other problems that we don't want to have. We don't know the whole package.
If everyone got to throw their whole lives into a package and throw them into a pile, then each person got to sift through the pile and take the one they wanted, we'd all pick our own packages back because our problems would seem small to each other package out there. Although my niece had one of the most amazing spirits I've ever seen and the very best talent for calming people and helping people feel loved that I've ever felt, I wouldn't have traded places with her in life, and I probably wouldn't trade with her in death either.
So Princess, from a line from a song in your funeral, "Good-night, Princess. I'll see you in the morning when the Son is shining bright."
Song: See You in the Morning by Susan Ames.