First World Problems

Manasota beach left here

Manasota Key…no beach left here

I was listening to NPR the other day and someone was interviewing a singer/songwriter who was talking about how she had always thought she’d be a concert pianist.  And then she didn’t get into Julliard and that seemed like the end of the world.

“You know, one of those ‘first world problems’ people have, ” she said.

And the phrase stuck in my head.  And ever since, I’ve been listing first world problems in my spare time.  First world problems…not getting into the college you had your heart set on, graduating from college without a great job offer, your air conditioning dying at a lousy time, wireless dying at a lousy time (with wireless it is ALWAYS a lousy time), major traffic jam on the way to the airport, missing a flight or connection, broken leg, losing your kindle (or even your iPhone), street flooding on the day you needed to get somewhere, poison ivy, getting moved from fifth grade to second grade without warning, gaining weight and needing new clothes, long lines at the checkout counter,  parking spots at the beach…You get the picture.  Some things are worse than others but they’re first world problems.

Even cancer, even serious cancer, when you have good insurance and great doctors and a place to stay is a first world problem.  Every time I try to wrap my head around a third world problem…famine, lack of shelter, war, human trafficking, genocide…my mind fails me and my heart breaks.  How can I EVER complain EVER???

This is not to say that first world problems aren’t problems.  Or even that some third world problems are here in our “first world”…homelessness, hunger, rape, human trafficking…but there are more safety nets here than there.  In a third world, you can send your daughter to school and she is kidnapped along with 300 other girls and sold to someone for a slave or wife or whatever.  In a third world, you can wake up to a city that has been bombed out  and your life as you knew it (you thought you were in a first world) is gone…your home, your family, your city.   In a third world, you can be the only one left of your family…everyone else dead or missing.  And I’m not happy because my dishwasher is acting weird?

We’ve had several days of wind and rain and have been incredibly fortunate…no real damage to homes or people as far as I can see.  The real damage is to the sea turtle population.  We had 85 nests on our zone.  All but two are gone, washed away by pounding surf that came right up to the dunes.  I was on the beach this morning…looked desolate and empty.  Yesterday it was cluttered with the yellow stakes that signal a sea turtle nest.  Highly unlikely they’ll hatch.  Some do if they haven’t been flooded too badly but it’s pretty rare.  It is what it is but oh my, it’s sad to see. (is this a first world problem?)

What else?  I just saw WHERE TO INVADE NEXT?…Michael Moore’s movie about how they do things in other countries.  Well done.  I know it’s not as simple as he makes it out to be but honestly, we really could learn a few things from other countries (like Finland for education, for example) and I saw SUFFRAGETTE.   I don’t know. I don’t think I could ever believe in something so strongly that I was willing to give up my life for it…give up my marriage, my children???  I’m just not that strong.  Good movie.

And I read three spectacular books recently (thanks to LONG plane rides and LONG airport layovers)  Madonnas of Leningrad, an old one, absolutely beautiful. The Two Family House (thanks, Sara)…I loved it.  And the author grew up in Longmeadow, by the way. And Eleven Hours (thanks, Martha)..short one that was just perfect.

Love you all and may your problems (even if they are first world problems) be small ones.

The Pearl...motel at the beach. One of these days it will be in the Gulf

The Pearl…motel at the beach. One of these days it will be in the Gulf

Someone's deck...ripped away from steps down to the beach

Someone’s deck…ripped away from steps down to the beach


10 thoughts on “First World Problems

  1. Mary, thanks for reflections. Well said. Is it ok to say it’s sad about turtles?! Such is life. 3rd world problems are tragic, despairing…way beyond sad.

  2. Glad you posted. I was wondering how the weather was in your neck of the woods. I couldn’t get you off my mind. So happy things aren’t too bad there. Mary

  3. Linda Underwood

    Mary, I always love your posts but this one was outstanding. I will steal your term “first world problem”. I often think that when I or someone feels they have a big issue and I just think if you were living in another country your issue could be will a bomb go off on my way to the market?? I think travel helps us realize just how fortunate and out of touch with the rest of the world we are. Thank you for your messages.

    PS Loved Madonnas of Lenningrad. Just finished Elizabeth Strout’s new novel and loved it.

  4. Wendie Highsmith

    Mary-Are things ok in Venice weather-wise where you are?

  5. So sad about the turtles. I had no idea the storm could devastate them. But it’s your discussion of first world problem that really grabbed me. Here in idyllic Old Lyme, I’m constantly made aware of how insulated the affluent are. My daughter-in-law recently complained that there’s no restaurant delivery here, and all her Facebook friends commiserated. Imagine that: refrigerators and pantries stocked with every conceivable provision, and that’s not enough, while 15 miles away there’s a sizable homeless population and children go to bed hungry every night. I think I’m becoming a socialist.

  6. I love reading your blog . Sorry we couldn’t get together the other day . God’s blessings Safe travels . Love Paula

    Sent from my iPhone



  8. Wonderful essay and yes, I don’t think most of us realize what REAL problems are.

  9. Your post got me thinking, “Where did the concept of first world and third world originate? And what about second world?” I had no clue, so I did a little search and realize (basically) it is a geopolitical designation stemming from WWll when the world aligned with US & industrialized, capitalist countries as First World. Then, Second World being communist, mostly eastern countries. Third World being poor, underdeveloped countries with some surprising inclusion such as Saudi Arabia. Finally, there is a Fourth World, indigenous peoples living within these countries. Your degrees of problems still stand true when we compare the concerns of poverty & war in the developing Third World to some that you describe in our First World. But I wonder, aren’t we all affected at differing degrees to human problems regardless of where we live? For example, a First World soldier fighting in a Third World country, shares the scars and horror of war regardless of where they are from, and their experience is felt at home by the ones they love, perhaps for a lifetime. What about the degrees of poverty in the First World that mimick Third World concerns, like a world within a world? I agree that our relative peace & isolation from daily life-threatening concerns might make “lesser” problems seem huge, but stress is a human condition we all feel when our world is upended or we feel threatened? I think we can put our problems into perspective and still grieve for what we have personally lost without feeling guilty for acknowledging our sorrows or comparing our losses as less important to others in the world. Your insights are so powerful and true. I am just wondering about a universal human element that transcends geopolitical boundaries.

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