Monday, November 24, 2008

Live Really is a Bowl of Cherries

Every so often I get something in my inbox from Positive Ron, PositRon for short, about how having “a positive attitude” is the key to happiness. This isn’t something he debates. He just knows it’s true.

Maybe I should say "she," PositRonni, because these cheerful, upbeat missives usually come from women. Yet, they express belief in that weird uncombed male relative, Will. Remember him? PositRonni and Will believe we can choose to be happy, choose to see only what we like, look on the bright side of the mountain, not the shade. Ronni and Will are joined at the hip, both of them sure, pretty sure, anyway, that you can boss yourself into happiness.

Now, we do have many opportunities to affect our lives, most of them daily and boring. Like this: if I always put my car keys in the basket by the door, I am more likely to be able to find them than if I throw them down wherever. A little habit that makes life a bit less stressful. Fewer frantic occasions trying to find the keys, running late, anxious. We can impact our experience in bigger ways. Think before we say yes to something that’s going to crowd the calendar. Quit smoking. Take up painting. Figure out how to drop that grudge.

But Ronni isn’t sending me posts about working toward a better life. She is telling me, with hope in her voice, to just block out what I don’t like. Pain, sadness, discouragement, frustration, those things are undesirable, so let’s not let them in. Cool, as long as it works.

My most urgent positive thoughts come in little notes from the most determinedly cheerful lady I know. Her daughter recalls the time she pushed her mother to acknowledge a painful truth. “Well,” the woman said, with finality, “that might be the way it is, but that doesn’t mean I have to think about it.”

The deceptively pretty bowl of fruit on that woman’s dining room table is actually a ceramic piece. The artificial cherries are not nourishing, but they will never go bad. Real cherries have pits, and sometimes a faintly rotten taste, or a tiny worm. Some look ripe but are sour and hard, and you can’t necessarily pick out the sweetest one. I don't think that's what the song means by "Life is just a bowl of cherries." But in fact, that’s what cherries are like.

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