“Why don’t you sit and watch the game for awhile, Honey?” The cute redhead was buzzing past in her quest for a bit of clean laundry, but I was engrossed in the Razorback’s basketball game. The Hogs were winning, which will give you some clue of how many years ago this event occurred. The Lovely Lady declined my invitation, partially because she had work to do, but I could tell that there was more to it. Wondering if I had done something wrong, I asked her why she couldn’t take a minute to cheer for her team (she is a native Arkansan, you know). Her reply evoked a burst of laughter on my part–not the best response from a caring husband, but I couldn’t help it. She said, with a straight face, “If I watch them play, they’ll lose. They always do.” No amount of logical discussion about the physics of sitting on a couch in front of a television, and its lack of effect on a team playing in an arena miles away would shift her in her resolute refusal. I can’t remember, but I think the Hogs may have lost anyway.
Why is it that we expect to have unpleasant things happen when we want good things? How do we become cynics about some things specifically, and about life in general? I have to think that it is the human condition. We talk about a glass half full, or a glass half empty, differentiating between optimism and pessimism, but it seems to me that, at one time or another in our lives, all of us are pessimists, anticipating and expecting that awful things are bound to happen to us.
I think back, and I remember another red-head sitting in the living room of the house I was raised in. This lady seemed to have an unending supply of cliches’ on the tip of her tongue. I find myself using them still today.
“Always a day late and a dollar short.”
“Well, that’s par for the course!”
“I just can’t win for losing.”
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”
I didn’t have a miserable childhood. We didn’t have disaster after disaster in our lives; we simply had the normal everyday situations to be faced and put behind us. Good things happened, too. My father had a good job. We had food and clothes. We took vacations, went to the beach and went fishing with friends. We loved and were loved. As it does for all of us, life had its ups and its downs. But, words like those quoted above tend to make you focus on the bad, to have an expectation that, every time things seem to be going well, you’d better be on your guard. Bad things were sure to happen, because, as we all know, “nothing good lasts forever.”
How sad! We focus on the potential for bad in the midst of the good that has been showered upon us. We love distressing news. We must. It is what we crave from our news sources. We sit enthralled for hours, as the story unfolds of a mentally ill man who murders his mother and then her school students and co-workers. But, the story of thousands of schools with no such incidents, where educators teach and care for and deal with special-needs students with considerable success? That is no story at all. We don’t want to know about success, just about failure.
Earlier tonight, I was rereading a few of the Winnie the Pooh stories. What’s that? To the grandchildren? No…no, I was reading them because I enjoy them myself. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
Anyway, as I was saying, rereading a Pooh story or two, I was suddenly struck with the truth about pessimism. In the story I read, Eeyore is feeling sorry for himself. He looks in the water at his reflection and declares it “pathetic”. Moving to the other side of the river, he checks again. “Pathetic. That’s what it is.” It is his birthday, and no one has remembered him, but then, he expects that. The expectation doesn’t keep him from being unhappy, though. It is only at the end of the story as he realizes that his friend, Piglet, is unhappy about breaking the gift he was bringing to him, that Eeyore understands what must be done. Turning his focus off himself, he seeks a way to cheer up his friend and in doing so, is cheered himself. It is a universal truth. We can’t lift ourselves out of self-pity and gloom by concentrating more on ourselves. It is only as we consider others around us that we realize our circumstances aren’t bigger than we can handle. As we see (and help fulfill) the needs of others, ours pale in comparison and soon become unimportant in the bigger picture that we now can see.
It is to believe a falsehood to think that I can’t win for losing. I am not always a day late and a dollar short. Our God tells us about the plans He has for His people and promises that they are plans for good things and not for disaster; plans for a future and to give hope. But, as long as our focus is on what we desire and not on what others need, we’ll be tied up in knots over our problems, both real and imagined. And that, my friends, is par for the course.
The little gray donkey serves as a warning and a lesson for our lives. I’m all for looking up and around at those near me. How about it?
The view in the mirror probably isn’t all that great anyway…
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life! And, I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.
My life is cold, and dark and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.
Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun, still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
(“The Rainy Day”~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~American poet~1807-1882)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.