able/disabled, aging, disabilities, health, independence, mobility



Recently, a friend with an unexpected life threatening physical condition complained that she might have to be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. Reflexively, I commented, “It could always be worse,” thinking insulin injections, chemo, radiation.

That same week another acquaintance mentioned that she had been just diagnosed with A-Fib and was now on blood thinners which she ruefully confessed might have to be taken for the rest of her life. Again, I responded, “It could always be worse,” thinking about those same alternatives given to my first friend.

Later, I wondered why I had made such automatic assertions. It could always be worse was something I even told myself when I had to perform unpleasant procedures, e.g., struggle while strapping on a back brace; wrap my left leg daily; pop in my hearing aids; deal with chronic and increasing back pain. Yet the “It could always be worse,” phrase helps me put my own physical state into perspective. And I recognized that the phrase was tied to Judaism.

Although I am Jewish, my parents were non-synagogue attendees and always spoke only English.  Because I was a sickly child, I missed a lot of public school days so I never even attempted religious school. Despite this, I obviously had absorbed Jewish attitudes and culture.

When I Googled the expression, sure enough I found a children’s book by Margot Zemach called, It Could Always Be Worse, based on an old Yiddish folktale.

As retold by Zemach, accompanied by her lively illustrations, a poor man lived with his wife, mother, and six children crammed into a small hut. With the husband and wife constantly quarrelling and the noisy children fighting and screaming, chaos reigned.

Overcome with frustration, the husband sought advice from a rabbi who counseled that he should bring his chickens, rooster, and goose to live inside with them. Obligingly, the man did, but it only made the household more frenzied. He returned to the rabbi, who then instructed to now bring his goat and later his cow inside the shack.

Their abode became even more unbearable, so the desperate man returned to the rabbi who told him to let all the animals back outside. That night, the family had a wonderful night’s sleep and, the message was clear: At least you don’t have to sleep with your livestock, and that is always worse.

To my regular blog readers: Several months have elapsed since my last posting, and I apologize. I have been sidetracked with chronic pain and reduced mobility that also decreased my ability to write. Although, I am trying a wide variety of treatments, so far I have been unsuccessful. Despite feeling sorry for myself, I must take my own advice and remind myself, “It Could Always Be Worse.”


Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who, like most people, unconsciously absorbed ethnic attitudes from her family.



18 thoughts on “IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE”

  1. Old joke.. “ cheer up, it could always be worse. So, I cheered up, and it got worse”! Love from the land of smiles- Thailand.

  2. Good to see my and everyone’s favorite columnist back at the keyboard. We’ve all been saying “It could be worse… Norine might decide not to do another blog post,” but luckily you came through. May you keep typing and thinking and being and joking for many happy, healthy years to come. xox

  3. Worse is a state of mind. It is never worse than at the present moment of distress. True, things can and do sometimes deteriorate furture, yet every day we can ponder our situation, things are always better.
    To turn a phrase- It just might get better.

  4. Norine, I think that’s also a Hispanic saying, I remember my mom saying that frequently. I guess it’s along the lines of always looking for the silver lining. Which you always have. Glad that you are ready to turn a corner for the best. Take care.

    1. You’re right, Yolie. This isn’t an exclusively Jewish expression. I think it’s used by any folks who are poor as a coping mechanism. One Armenian friend said that her relatives in Moscow use it frequently. It’s a very useful method of trying to stay positive. Love, N.

  5. It is a wonderful story. I am constantly amazed at your wonderful attitude, despite the pain that I know you constantly experience. Your “Raining Cats and Dogs” Wellies are yet another expression of your sunny personality. I too, am happy to know from where that expression came. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Carol. I’ve learned that this expression isn’t limited to Jews. An Armenian friend said her relatives in Moscow frequently use it. I think that the saying flourishes among the poor as a coping device. Love, N.

  6. Loved your teachable moment! Such comforting words that we tell ourselves are what enable us to keep on keeping on. Loved the responses, too. It could’ve been worse: what if no one had read your reassuring thoughts? You might not know how appreciated you are. Sending love and continued hope for your well-being!

    1. Thanks, Sandy. From those who have contacted me, I have learned that a variant of the expression occurs in Mexican and Armenian culture, so I will assume that people commonly use it as a means of keeping positive. One friend even sent me a paraphrase used by Chekhov in one of his stories. I think we can all relate to this concept. Love you, N.

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