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Day By Day: Envy - Learning to live with the green-eyed monster

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There are plenty of things in my life to feel guilty about -- everything from cutting the hair on my neighbor's brand new hula doll when I was 8 and lying about it, to gas-lighting Kevin last week into thinking he was the one who forgot to close the freezer door. And when I think about all those guilt trips over the years, a lot of them have to do with one of the world's most ancient sins -- envy.

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I have always had a problem with envy. It goes without saying that I envy skinny people, people who can eat whatever they want and not gain weight, and people who don't really care about weight at all.

But I've also envied less conventional things over the years like the kids at school who got to throw away their brown sack lunch bag every day instead of folding it up to be used again tomorrow (back then you were just green with envy). I envied friends who lived in town and had paved streets to bike on instead of gravel roads, half of which ended up imbedded in my knees when I inevitably crashed after hitting a rut.

I envied a lot of girls at boarding school. They all seemed to have better hair, more money and bigger plans than me. Oh, I would privately think big about becoming the next Barbara Walters or Joan Rivers, but then I figured they had lots better chances than I ever would so I decided to just envy them rather than act.

I envied the young couple who lived downstairs from us after we first got married. They saved everything they made and moved out of our dumpy building after only six months to buy a house. Never mind that he was a jerk and she never told him so. They were smarter than I was. With any kind of luck she's dumped him by now and he's left holding some bad mortgage on a starter castle somewhere.

When I went back to college, I envied kids who knew what they wanted to do. I just knew I didn't want to work in an insurance office anymore. I have a bachelor's degree in that. I'm still not sure what I want to do, and I still envy people who do whether it is a career for a lifetime or something they just decide to up and try.

The thing is, I look at envy in a more positive light these days. As sins go, it isn't all bad. I kind of think of it more as a deeply cultivated sense of appreciation. The truth is, I probably wouldn't want to or have the energy for doing what it takes to get the things I envy these days, so where's the harm?

Short of winning the lottery, getting rich sounds like a lot of work and kind of risky. Someone might kidnap my kids or steal my car. No one seeing me or my car or my kids would ever get the impression we are worth much in the way of ransom.

Being beautiful appears to be temporary, and ordinarily bright women seem to lose all sense of proper proportion when it comes to cosmetic surgery, many ending up like something off the sci-fi channel or victims of some terrible wind tunnel accident.

I still envy good hair, nice nails and a job at the airlines (all those free tickets), but it's manageable.

I was in Florida last week spending time with someone I have envied most of my life -- my sister Mary. When I was a kid, I envied her beauty and the way people seemed drawn to her. She's still that way. Some of the most interesting people I've ever met I've met through her. She has always attracted a pretty good class of person, and since marrying my brother-in-law, Dave, her track record has been even better.

Take their friends in Florida, for example. I likely would never come across the likes of Jul or Erica or Walter on my own, but I can happily add them to the list of people I envy -- make that appreciate -- these days.

Jul has a lot of things people envy, but those are just things and really don't tell the story. The thing about Jul is that a few years back she lost the love of her life when her husband died, but she didn't lose her love of life. I do envy that.

Erika is fearless and fearsome, a combination that used to intimidate me but, when applied properly and fairly across the board no matter who you are or what you have, is something to be admired.

And then there's Walter, yet another older man who leaves much younger guys in the dust. Walter turns 91 today and he has been a Florida friend of Mary and Dave's for years. But I didn't really start to appreciate him until Katie and Cory returned from their spring break trip last year and talked all about Walter.

I met him for myself, and he easily slipped onto my list of people to appreciate. Walter makes 90 look good -- not just good, but fun. It explains his appeal to almost everyone who meets him, from my 19-year-old daughter to the countless people who stop by his chair on the beach every morning to talk with him.

Smart, fit and insightful, Walter tops out the list of people I now very comfortably and proudly admit that I envy. What sane person wouldn't?

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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