I've been thinking a lot about "at least" lately.
For some context, there's the most recent round of the Pain Olympics going down. One of the major "events" that attempted Pain Olympians play is the "At Least" game, wherein whatever the Olympian went through is deemed much worse than whatever the blogger being criticized is perceived to have gone through, and "At Least" the blogger can/has/should appreciate something the Olympian lacks (like can get pregnant if not carry to term or has children or is happily married or has a nice job or A job).
It's also just about my grandpa's birthday. He'd be 91 this year. He was very fond of talking in terms of "at least" though. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, but I think it's a result of having been young during the depression (rather than a young adult like my other grandparents were). When you have seen just how desperate life can be for so many people, I think you realize how lucky you are, and that no matter how bad things are in your life right now, "at least" it isn't as bad as the depth of awfulness you've seen. I can't ask him, so I will never know for sure, but that's my suspicion.
Me: "It's awfully cold this week, isn't it?"
Him: "At least it isn't snowing! I remember once when we still had snow into June, but these days with the global warming, the snow melts by the end of May at the latest."
I've been thinking about the "at least" part of my life too. A friend from undergrad just died of breast cancer (and she was diagnosed when we were students, although she was a student in her 50s). One of my pharmacy school classmates also died of cancer and two are living with it now (in remission but one is likely going to come back). When I consider how hard things are, I often think to myself "at least I don't have cancer and neither do the spouse or the kid. We are so lucky."
Then I consider how painful it is to have someone telling me "at least..." when it comes to, well, anything in my life. At least I have a house, and the internet, and enough food, and what have you. At least you have one child, isn't that enough? Yep, maybe infertility wouldn't seem like such a big deal if I didn't have my basic needs met. I suspect it still would bother me. At least you haven't gone into debt to have a child, at least you have a working car, at least you're in school and will have a good paying job when you finish...
I always have in my mind that there's a "yet" after any time someone says, "At least you haven't lost..." or "at least you haven't gone to jail" or whatever. I'm not sure if that's because I'm pessimistic or because I try to worry about just today or because I know how close I have come to losing everything. Repeatedly. I walked the line where on one side was isolation and jail and madness, and I lucked out to wind up on the side where things got better. I know that line is perilously close at all times and just because the really bad stuff hasn't hit me YET, it doesn't mean it never will. I make my choices and they keep me from those awful, maybe preventable, "yet" scenarios.
I'm not sure how I feel about even just thinking about "at least" in my head. It bothers me to some degree, that I have this need to compare my life to others' and to deem my experience easier or less painful than theirs. It's probably just human nature to compare me to everyone around me, so I have some sense of myself and my place in the world.
I just have to be sure to keep my big "at least" mouth shut if I have the urge to say it, because that comparison hurts so much when others make it about me, I can only assume it hurts others too if I do it.