A Crack in the Viewfinder?

Last year, I was at the Easter Sunday service at Norwich Cathedral with a new acquaintance.  In the distance, I noticed a lady in the congregation whose face was very familiar.  "I think I went to College with her," I told my acquaintance.

She didn't miss a beat.  "Oh, that's V. – you know, she had cancer last year."

And I knew that very second that I would never be friends with my acquaintance.  Why? Because I do not want to be friends with someone who can find nothing to say about a stranger except that she'd had cancer.  She could have said that V. was a splendid cook, an outstanding gardener, an avid reader, or even simply that she was a lovely person.  At a push, "Oh, that's V. – you know, she had cancer last year and recovered by using such-or-such treatment/philosophy/herbs/breakthrough surgery etc."  Instead, she chose to describe a person exclusively by her affliction rather than by any personality characteristic she might have.  As though this woman was defined by her illness and nothing else.

It has been my experience that most people find it much easier – almost unhealthily more comfortable – to relate to another person's unhappiness than happiness.  As a literary translator, I know that it is much easier to convey grief, fear and unhappiness from another language and culture than happiness and humour.  Unhappiness travels at the speed of light.  Happiness, for some reason, doesn't.  It's stopped at every corner, questioned, analysed, its visa checked, its motivation examined and viewed with suspicion.  Too much happiness is viewed as superficial, twee, unrealistic, whereas unhappiness is frequently described with such complimentary terms as "profound", "real" and the arts programmes' favourite, "dark".  Happy endings are automatically considered flawed, while tragic or unresolved ones are worthy of respect.  Love stories that turn out happily are chick-lit, but the ones with characters battling each other's demons are more likely to win literary prizes.  When and why did we decide that darkness is worthier than the light? 

A few days ago, some neighbours were expressing their sympathy at my husband and me having to move house for the fourth time in as many years, and asked about our plans for the future.  "It's very simple," I said, flippantly.  "I'm going to buy a lottery ticket, win the jackpot, then buy a house in Norwich and an attic apartment in Rome."

Interestingly, they didn't comment on the obvious flaw in the premise of my plan.  Instead, their faces turned sad and they replied, "Ah, yes, but then when you buy a place you can end up with the neighbours from hell.  And then something always goes wrong and repairs are so expensive..."  There it was – the zooming in on a tiny crack in an otherwise perfect crystal vase.

"Not too bad..." increasingly seems like the favourite British response to the question "How are you?" and people are surprised when my reaction is, "Oh, dear, have you been unwell?"  To me, "Not too bad" implies that things could be worse but, well, they're not good at the moment.  

"A friend in need is a friend indeed" is a saying common to many different cultures, and yet it's much harder to share good news with a friend than bad ones.  People rally around you at bad news, offer help and sympathy with an enthusiasm that (I hate to say this) sometimes verges on a hint of gratitude.  They plunge into the pool of your unhappiness and swim in it for hours.  Give them a tale of success, independence and joy, and, sadly, they'll all too often walk around your pool of limpid water looking awkward, almost afraid of dipping their toes in it.

In a café, I overhear a woman at the next table talking to her sister about her forthcoming fiftieth birthday.  "It's a brilliant age," I volunteer light-heartedly, being two years her senior.  "It's when you find out what you really want." 

The woman beams at me.  "Oh, I really don't mind turning fifty.  In fact, I'm quite looking forward to it."

"Ah, that's what she says now," her sister says.  "Just wait for her to be really fifty and then she'll feel old like the rest of us."

That's what I call toxic.

More and more, I find myself drifting away even from people I love if their default setting is one of pessimism or their focus automatically on the negative.  If I can't tell them about my joy, then I will not give them the satisfaction of wallowing in my unhappiness.  They have their own.  I have no inclination to encourage Schadenfreude.  

Why do so many of us accept only a vision of a flawed, doomed world? Is there a crack in our mental viewfinder that distorts our perception?

What makes us more attuned to misery than to joy? To pessimism rather than optimism? To despair rather than hope? Why is it often easier to sink under the gravitational force of darkness rather than dare to push upwards through the clouds and stand in the sunlight?

In a world that is a resounding "YES" why do we primarily hear a stream of little "no"s?

Scribe Doll

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Enjoying Spring's Beauty

Leaving behind the twittering martins swooping over our lake and the many resting on the telephone line up our lane, Gerald took us on a springtime ride to visit a cousin-in-law and his daughter before they headed back to North Carolina. He deliberately chose roads we don't usually travel to get there.

Seeing the roadside platform placed to view the geese brought memories of a long ago stop there with my visiting cousin Doug and a grandson sitting in back in his car seat with his sister buckled beside him. Somehow unbeknownst to us when we got back in the car, an insect maaged to get under the grandson's little leg. We could not figure out why he was crying although we kept trying to correct any problem. When we finally arrived at the family cemetery where we were headed and got him out of the seat, we saw the terrible red bump on the under side of his leg and the squashed insect. Other memories of that day are more pleasant, including explaining to his not much older sister why she could enjoy but not pick the pretty flower arrnagements off the graves. That wildlife viewing platform reminds me of the sad little story that tore this grandmother up. Fortunately, the grandson survived just fine and is now teaching in Chicago, but I don't think we ever stopped again.


 

Soon we were crossing the highway over the eastern end of Crab Orchard Lake. Flully white clouds in the blue sky rounded down to the edge of the lake, and I inhaled the beauty and the peacful change from the earlier sorry memory. Springtime beauty kept increasing as we drove through the many hills and hollows with roads now lined with the silver-green leaves of the autumn olives.(Or were those shrubs Russsian olives? I don't know the difference.) Behind these short pretty little trees which are now deemed invasive, were the tall dark trees left over from winter with only a few giving us a hint of green leaves forming. The puple-pink redbud, however, was at the height of its glory, and an occasional patch of bright yellow blooming mustard plant added more color. After this bountiful blessing of roadside beauty, we arrived at the hill-top destination home out from Cobden. There we had a long and good talkative visit with Bill, who had recently suffered a serious fall, and with Glenna who was there to make sure he was taken care of as he recovers.

We left going back home a different route of hills. These provoked even older memories of when curvy Old 51 was the only way we had to go to Carbondale back in our college days. Gerald had an errand there at a favorite hardware story, and then we stopped in Marion to use one of our Christmas restaurant gift cards.

Only a couple of days later driving into Katherine's, in addition to all the early-season yard sales going on, there were dogwoods now in bloom adding white delight to the landscape along with the colorful redbuds. Many more tall trees were green with early leaves.

More recently in one of the older neighborhoods in town with its ancient bricked street that I love, I saw a large pink dogwood blooming beautifully in someone's yard. That reminded me of a lesson I learned a few years back. I like simple things, and I like old things. And I am not too good about changes. I had not grown up with pink dogwoods, so I thought pink dogwood had to be a variation some over-eager botantist had created-- just like our food manufacturers are no longer satisfied with plain oatmeal, but must now befuddle us with many variations. This wide array of choices makes going to a modern grocery mind-confusing and time-consuming. So I resented the pink dogwood as a one too many modern variation. Then I found out that I was wrong. It had been around for a long time. I looked it up just now and found that this lovely pink variety was noticed and recorded by a plant hunter named Marc Catesby in 173l.

I am now trying to remember that getting old should not make one croctehety and critical of inevitable changes that will come when needed or maybe when not. I can be grateful for caffeine-free tea for those who need it and the quick-cooking oatmeal or other products for those in a hurry—sometimes me.I can be grateful for healthier choices on our over-crowded long grocery aisles and I need to look at changes with more openess. There is an excellent smaller store with fewer and shorter aisles in town, and I often choose to go there. I am also aware that many people in small villages or poor city neighborhoods have no store that is easy to get to, and that makes my complaints about too many choices seem even more petty.

Rejoice in your blessings. Cope with your problems. And have a pleasant Easter everyone.

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Stone Upon Stone, Soul Upon Soul

 

582_1609 abo

For good or ill, they left their mark.
Rich in their vow of poverty;
at least by local standards.
They had their cigars and their chocolate.
They had their music and their books.
They had their Faith.
They had untold riches
in willing backs and upturned faces.

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Stone on stone. Wooden crosses.
Beams and candles. Silver chalice.
True, the graveyard was filling up
but there was work to be done.
They were here on a mission;
called by the Assisian of long ago.
Soul upon soul. Tally and count.
Blessed waters all poured out.

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Carry your burden. Stone upon stone.
Eyes lifted to heaven. Recall your lessons.
Soul upon soul. No room for doubt.
Where friars go, others follow.
Scores were settled by Godly force.
The “Holy Office” — an instrument of peace
in the wild lands west of the Pecos,
in this province of sand and salt.

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Women tending the graveyards,
upturned faces looked away. The cost was high.
The flesh was less willing, the spirit weak.
Some days the raiders came.
Voices raised – a stone thrown in anger.
An arrow. The fields are on fire.
The burden was there but with few willing backs.
Brother, tell us again about Heaven.

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Over the pass, it was a long slow walk.
First one mission and then another
left crumbling in the sun.
Stone upon stone. Soul upon soul.
A vow of poverty is for living,
not dying in the sand and salt.
So brothers, pick up the pace!
There will be other missions, but not here.

582_1610 abo

*     *     *

Enchanted, More or Less — 2017

https://malpaisweb.wordpress.com

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Literary Limerick

One day Harold was writing a play

Which began in the usual way:

Someone came to a party,

and then it got arty

when no body wanted to stay.

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