This I Believe

E. Susan - Portland, Oregon
Entered on May 28, 2007

For This I Believe

I believe in germs. Good old household germs, the kind that our grandmothers abhorred and tried to eradicate from the planet with ammonia and bleach and elbow grease. Despite their best efforts, germs survived and flourished. Today we have new weapons—anti-bacterial soaps. The funny thing is, studies show that our use of antibacterial soaps has actually bred stronger and stronger forms of germs. Germs react to our use of these soaps by becoming stronger so that they can survive.

The analogy to our own lives is an easy one to make. We humans tend to look for the better life, for the quick fix that will make us “happy.” This urge is exploited by advertisers, who promise us the beautiful mate, the happiness of a perfect body or car, fitting in with the in crowd or sexual prowess. We forget that our greatest lessons are those learned through unhappiness and pain, that our wisdom, as it were, comes from experiences that may seem completely negative at the time.

Take my life. I had an unplanned pregnancy when I was young and thought my life was over. But this perceived disaster brought me the greatest joy in my life, my son. I also have had rocky relationships with men over the years, and am still looking for my life partner. But all these experiences have taught me what I am looking for. As my friend Liza said, “Once I dated a man who was kind, and now I know that is something I can’t do without.” I also lost a job recently, and yet because of past experiences I was able to walk away saying “This just isn’t a good fit,” and I found a place that worked much better for who I am. The lesson here is obvious, but so hard to remember sometimes. We need to embrace the negative in our lives, not run from it. We become who we are by learning the lessons of life, and we become wise by learning to survive and flourish when the times are the hardest. This is how to learn and grow—this is what the germ can teach us.

The second thing the germ can teach us is very important in our time. It is about living in equilibrium with the earth and nature. It is about remembering that every action we take will bring about a consequence in the world we live in. It is about remembering that every time we get into our car to drive somewhere we are contributing to global warming. It is about remembering that our consumption means that somewhere natural resources are being used to make more commodities for us to consume. Maybe it is about googling “Voluntary Simplicity” or “Sustainable Development” and figuring out how we can be part of the solution and not just part of the problem. Remember the message of germs.