Would You Trade Your Life (With Someone Else)?

Category: Weekly Columns

Haven’t we all at one time or another said something like, “Boy, I’d sure like to trade my life for his or hers!”  Sometimes it’s about someone we know personally but often it’s about a “famous” person who we think we know.  My assertion is that when you really think about it,you wouldn’t trade your life with anyone!

There’s a caveat to this assertion, naturally, which is simply health-related and extreme poverty related.  If someone were seriously sick, especially with a debilitating illness, changing lives would be nice.  If someone were starving to death in a corrupt nation, yes changing lives would also be a good thing.  But, for the average American or citizen of a free country without extreme poverty or corruption, this idea about not switching lives may apply and at least provoke some reflection.

Everyone has troubles, problems, and challenges.  Just read the autobiography or biographies of anyone famous and you realize how fame and fortune rarely brings happiness.  My favorite music stars are Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.  Both had decidedly different but equally troubling lives.

For “The Chairman of the Board” as Sinatra was often called, there were severe career ups and downs, multiple marriages, and hurtful snubs due to his associations, the most notable being between him and JFK.  He had a tempestuous marriage and relationship with Ava Gardner, married a young starlet (Mia Farrow), and ultimately did find love late in his life when he married Barbara.  But, to say his life was easy and carefree is to not remember that time before he got the career-saving role in “From Here to Eternity.”

Elvis Presley, “The King” as he was often called, came from extremely humble circumstances but achieved unparalleled success at a very young age.  He retained his humility, and his love of family and God, but allowed his career and personal ambitions to be run by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.  His only marriage ended badly due to his infidelities and he descended into an exile of sorts, due to his fame. He was surrounded by his own entourage, maybe the first such group of friends, almost a prisoner in his own home.  In the end, no one had the wisdom to help him take care of his health, his weight, and his drug dependence, and he died at age 42 suffocating in his own vomit.

JFK was assassinated in his forties, George Gershwin died in his thirties, Beethoven became deaf, FDR was crippled, and Van Gogh cut off his own ear due to his mental illness. James Dean crashed his Porsche and died at age 24, after only the first of his three movies had been released!  Buddy Holly also died in his early twenties, in a plane crash.  Beverly Sills’ only daughter was deaf and could never hear her mother sing.

Would you trade your life with ANY of these famous people?  How about Lindsay Lohan or Brittney Spears if you’re a young teen girl?  For young guys hoping for a singing career, would you have liked to be Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, or Michael Jackson?

So you’re thinking that you don’t relate to these famous people but would just like to have the life of your cousin, who is a successful doctor.  Do you really know about his life?  Do you know about the pressures he faces with his malpractice insurance and the changing health-care scene?  Do you know about the time he spent in re-hap or the addiction his teen son has kept secret from his parents?  Would you like to take the insulin shots he needs, but has covered up, to control his diabetes?  Do you get the picture?

Our kids invariably will compare their lives to their friends and acquaintances.  They want to trade what they think these people may have or more likely just have some of the things, materially, that they do have.  My older son tells me that, “every kid that I know is getting a car.”  When he said that, he was sincere.  When I pressed him about specific friends, whose parents I knew either were not able or interested in presenting their darling 16-year-old with a new BMW, he backed off and talked about “kids he knew of.”  That’s the point.  Our kids often think things may be better for someone else.  More often than not, it isn’t and our job as parents is not to get sucked into their naïve perceptions of others.

I know I wouldn’t trade my life for someone else’s life.  I know I’ve had my full share of hardships, but I know my parents had much worse.  I know that I’ve also had more than my full share of good fortune.  I’ve survived a couple of accidents that could have left me dead or worse.  I’ve survived financial ups and downs that still leave me gasping when I think about them.  But, I’ve survived and life is good.  I won’t trade with anyone. Except…maybe…