This morning, I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother. She lived to be 92, had 14 great-grandchildren, was happily married for 49 years, and was lucid and even cracking jokes with those at her bedside until almost the end.
Almost everyone I talked or listened to commented on her outlook – positive, even when facing adversity. How central that seems to have been to this life well lived!
I’ve been thinking a lot about attitudes recently – actually almost daily, without coming to any clear conclusions. Through the course of the year, documented in various posts, I’ve been looking at views and outlooks, my own and others, from the perspective of which are helpful and which are not.
It’s easier to see in others. My mother lost her father when she was in grade school, as the result of a freak accident. I remember my mom in adulthood with a certain wariness, a backward glance over the shoulder, as if wondering when or how the next blow would fall. Be it nature or nurture, I’m coming to see how I carry the same trait, without even any such clear reason why. The good news is that when such things come to consciousness, we can look at them, and in observing they begin to change.
Along these lines, I remember an irreverent joke my father used to tell:
“Once there was a study to determine which children were optimistic and which were pessimists,” my father would begin. “One day a group of observers came through for a tour. In the first room they visited, a boy was crying his eyes out, even though the room was a virtual toy store, with shiny new bikes and every kind of playing you could imagine.
‘What’s wrong?’ one of the observers asked.
‘Everything’s so nice,’ the boy said. ‘I’m afraid I might break something.’
The group moved on to the next room, where they came upon another boy who smiled and sang as he shoveled his way through a mountain of horse manure.
‘How can you be so happy in all of this mess?’ an observer asked.
‘Easy,’ the boy said. ‘With all this shit, there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!'”
I know which boy I have been for most of my life. I also know which one I aspire to be!