I ran into an acquaintance downtown and we chatted for about ten minutes.
Actually, it wasn’t so much a chat as a monologue.
It wasn’t a long conversation, but it felt like I was living dog years, that I’d been trapped for hours.
I’ve known her for around twenty years and when I think about it, I cannot remember her ever saying anything positive, about anything. She’s like the Charlie Brown character who traveled in his own dust cloud, but instead of dirt, it’s negativity.
Just as a challenge, I thought about trying to trap her into saying something good about someone or some subject, but mostly, I wanted out of the conversation. She may have felt the same way.
The next day, I was visiting my father and ran into an old friend. He’s in his ninetieth decade now and living with several health issues. I said, “Hey Red, how you doin’?”
He said, “Never better.”
It’s what he always says. I bet I’ve heard him say it a hundred times.
Here’s the thing. Red doesn't live in a rainbow cotton-candy cocoon. He’s had his share, and possibly more, of the troubles and tribulations of an active life. But he’s choosing, and it’s an active choice, to not allow those troubles to define him or his life.
More importantly, at least as far as I’m concerned, he’s not using his challenges to blight my or anyone else’s life. We chatted for only a couple minutes, but I left the building in a better mood than when I went in the door. I call that a win, and I think he would as well.
I’ve been wondering about the other person. She’s a mystery to me. It’s not just that she’s self-absorbed. Truthfully, I’m a little self-absorbed myself. But when I meet someone on the street, I almost always try to leave them feeling a bit better about themselves or their day, and sometimes the best way for me to do that is to tell a funny story about myself doing something stupid.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of them.
I’m fighting the urge to look her up and ask what made her the way she is, and whether she’s aware. I won’t, because I’m not exactly sure how I’d work the conversation around to the point of saying, “Seriously, what’s the point in having such a crappy attitude?” My guess is she’d be surprised or else she’d come up with a permutation of, “I’m just keeping it real...”
She, and her attitude, has a point. There’s a lot of real misery in the world - real muggers, real child abusers, real corrupt politicians. She’s not wrong about any of that.
There are also real sunrises, real kittens, puppies, and children. There’s the taste of an apple picked from a tree you planted yourself, there’s the real smiles of friends you haven’t seen for a while. So much of what is real in this world is good and lovely. We should never ignore the bad and the sad, but also try to not dwell on it so much that we lose sight of the wonder.
I’m reminded of Colin Powell. As a refresher, General Powell grew up in the Bronx, the child of Jamaican immigrants. He rose through the ranks in the Army, becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then Secretary of State. He probably could have been president as well, but his wife put her foot down.
So, you know, he did okay.
One of the things that helped him climb the ladder of success is a set of rules he put together. If you look them up, you’ll find that eight of the thirteen encourage a positive attitude.
I’m going to keep working on it.
Copyright 2022 Brent Olson