By Joe Rector
Walt Whitman, one of my favorite poets, said, “Do anything, but let it produce joy.” I can only wish following that advice has been easy, but the opposite is true. It’s the way I’m turned. Heredity probably has much to do with it as well. Whatever the cause, too often my view of the world has been gray.
Both of my grandmothers spent plenty of time wringing their hands and expecting the world to bring about the worst possible events. One toted her Bible with her and darkened the doorway of Valley Grove Baptist Church if even a hint that they might open came around. During the day, she listened to gospel music and “air-sucking” preachers who railed against people and predicted the end of the world was at hand. That was in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s; she would never believe that this world is still in one piece today.
I don’t recall ever seeing this grandmother smiling. She was a serious person who seemed to think that fun and laughter were best left for others. I suppose I loved her; after all, she was family, but she would cast a pall over every event or visit that we made to her house.
The other Mamaw loved company. She sat in her favorite chair and held court whenever we dropped by. Beside her chair sat a gallon can into which she deposited dark brown liquids colored by the dip of Bruton that was ever-present in her mouth. Sundays served as the day when we visited her.
The one thing that the entire family knew to avoid was the following question: “How are you, Mamaw?” When one of us forgot and uttered those words, a cloud of doom settled in the room as she began to vocalize every ache and pain and trouble in her life. All we could do was get comfortable and allow our minds to wander; otherwise, we’d have been too depressed to go on. If we did a good job and watched what we said during a visit, Daddy might stop to buy ice cream cones at Well’s on Clinton Highway.
Daddy, too, was a gloom-and-doomer. He worried about money and about groceries and about the future. As it turned out, he saw into the future that he would not be with us long. His life was spent trying to make provisions for us after he was gone. Many times he’d sit at the kitchen table and “figure” on paper. He might softly hum “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” or take deep drags from his Winston and chase it with a swallow of black-as-coal coffee.
I have too long been a pessimist. Behind every cloud isn’t a silver lining; a raging storm is coming. My wife says that I deflate even the grandest plans or events with such words as “but,” “if,” “maybe.” I use them to qualify statements that are made. To my way of thinking, qualifying things prevents disappointment should events occur or be less than pleasing.
It’s a habit that includes worrying. Even when we completely plan something, I worry that events or others will in some way ruin it. To tell the truth, I even worry when I have nothing about which to worry. Not only is the glass half empty, what’s in it is probably unfit for consumption.
I am working to stop my lousy outlook on things. My age has mellowed me in many ways; Amy also helps by pointing out my constant negativity. Whenever I begin spreading a blanket of gloom and worry, she pulls out her razor-sharp wit and makes fun of me until I lighten up. Her most effective tactic is to say,
“STOP AWFULIZING!!!!” It’s not a real word, but I know its meaning. My advice to all pessimistic folks is to enjoy life and quit AWFULIZING! I’ve discovered that existence is much nicer with a better attitude.