Last week amid new comments of angst from some of my grieving progressive friends one of my cousins noted that I tend to roll with the world’s punches because I am a “glass half full” kind of woman. That is certainly true. I cling to my optimism even in the face of daunting odds but my outward calm is not always as easy to come by as it may appear. In fact, I often vent privately before I am able to emerge publicly as a paragon of reason and good cheer. The members of my nuclear family can attest to this little known aspect of my character with countless examples of times when I actually behaved badly at home and then pulled myself together for the outside world. Ultimately I always come to the same conclusion that everything is going to be alright but it often takes time for me to get there.
I suppose that my generally rosy outlook on life came early in my development. My father’s death did more to direct the evolution of my character and my thinking than any other event in my life. At the age of eight I was hardly able to deal with tragedy like an adult and yet I somehow did. I felt a responsibility to my mother who was broken and unrecognizable and to my brothers who were far too young to understand exactly what was happening. I suppose it was then that I first realized that our world was not going to end even though that certainly appeared to be the case.
Family and friends came to our aid just as if a clarion call had resounded over the land. We were not alone, not for one minute. I have never forgotten the kindnesses that were showered on us. Even though the first days and weeks and months without my father were some of the most difficult and horrific of my life, we eventually gelled as a different kind of family. My mother regained her spirit and strength. We took baby steps together and before long we were sprinting with the confidence that we were going to make it. I knew then that looking forward and believing that there is a bright future becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. We found the security that we needed because we were convinced that we would do so. Had we simply pulled back into a cocoon of hopelessness the results might have been tragically different. Holding on to dreams of better days was our route out of the sadness that initially consumed us.
Because the cadence of life is rarely routine I have encountered countless moments that overwhelmed me. I allowed myself the luxury of fretting and railing at the heavens when I was with the people whom I had learned to trust implicitly. I knew that they would never turn on me no matter how ridiculously I behaved. They saw me at my lowest points when my behavior was akin to that of a petulant toddler. They gazed at the cracks and flaws that I carry in my soul. They allowed me to free the poisons that were attempting to overtake me. They heard me crying in the bathroom or throwing objects at a wall. They endured my tantrums out of love and sometimes laughed with me when I finally realized the ridiculousness of my outbursts. Once I had faced down the emotions that were clouding my ability to reason I always found the answers that I needed. The storms passed and the sun rose again.
I’ve had some minor irritations of late, issues with things either lost or broken. So many disappointments piled one on top of another that I finally lost my cool. I wanted to clean my carpet for the Thanksgiving festivities and so I brought my handy dandy Bissell carpet cleaner in from the garage, filled it with shampoo and merrily began the process of freshening my floors only to realize that the machine was not working properly. I made a few adjustments with no success. My husband came to the rescue but after several attempts to get the mechanisms actually doing their jobs we came to the conclusion that the carpet cleaner was broken. I was appalled because I had only used it a few times. My daughter had warned me not to purchase it. Hers had similarly died long before it should have. I became infuriated. I wanted to smash the offending appliance to pieces. I thought of taking it to the garage and beating it with a hammer. The idea of using it for target practice was enticing. I imagined it filled with holes that I had made. By the time that I had described all of my evil thoughts to my husband I was cackling with impish glee and resigned to the reality that I had made a bad purchase in spite of being counseled not to do so by my daughter. I placed the offending carpet cleaner on the curb and made somebody’s day because it disappeared in the dark of night. I truly hope that they have better results with it than I did.
I’ve chased my mother down the street when she was in a full blown state of mania. I’ve sat beside family members while they breathed their last breaths. I’ve lost the best of friends and missed them so much that my heart felt as though it would burst and I would surely join them. I’ve felt pain so terrible that I wanted to stop the world and get off for a time. My trials have been no different from those of anyone else. They are simply part and parcel of the human experience. They come and they go as inevitably as sunrises and sunsets. Never once have they overtaken me to the point of hopelessness. I certainly don’t intend to allow the tragedies that I experience to deny me the triumphs that I believe will always follow. I cling to my optimism because it has never failed me even when I have been the most hurt. It is centered on the love that is ever present around us. I find it over and over again even in the darkest hours.
I have a friend who lives in a small town in Georgia. Shortly after arriving there to begin a new phase of life her husband had a stroke and has been bed ridden ever since. What was to be a happy time has become an endurance test for her. She spends her days caring for him and worrying over the business of keeping the two of them safe and secure. She has found great kindness from strangers over and over again. People have learned of her plight and done the most remarkable things.
Someone brought her a turkey for Thanksgiving which she quickly decided to share with the people who live in her apartment complex who have no place to go on the holiday. Her idea quickly evolved into the making of a party and generated excitement where there had once been gloom. A couple that she barely knows will travel almost two hours to Atlanta early on Thanksgiving morning to meet her husband’s son who is flying in to visit with his ailing father. She marvels at the unexpected gifts that the townspeople have bestowed upon her little realizing that they have seen her courage and devotion and want to help. Somehow she has managed over and over again to wipe away her tears and her anger with her situation. She finds little snatches of happiness and goodness that keep her moving slowly forward.
The way of the world is often difficult and rocky but it rarely stays that way permanently. Just when we think that we are all alone someone almost always emerges to give us the comfort we need. We pick ourselves up over and over again and find hope in places that surprise us. Our hurts and disappointments go with us but we don’t have to allow them to dictate how we will view the world. I have found that the glass is rarely empty. I believe that I will always somehow find that tiny drop of promise that will lead me out of any misery that plagues me. I may not be able to control the situations that affect me but I do have mastery over how I will react. I choose optimism. In sixty eight years it has never failed me.