Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Relentless Pessimist

(The following is an excerpt from my book “Congratulations your baby is a boy and a girl”)

The relentless pessimist…and the way out

Those of you who know me, or have read the rest of my book, know that over the years I have tended toward being a bit pessimistic. In fact, tended is not the word – Mother Frances once called me a “relentless pessimist” There is an old adage that says one of the definitions of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect a different outcome. Scenes such as the following have played themselves out throughout my entire life.

Spouse: (with a reassuring hand on my arm) “I will always be there for you.”

Me: (with a worried look) “Always?”

Spouse: (smiling) “Yes – always.”

Result? The very next day, the next afternoon in fact – less than 24 hours later – I came home to find a “Dear Jane” note. The person who left me for another woman not only waited until I was gone, but on the way out stole my dog. Thus enacting the now famous adage (which I did not originate):

“My spouse left me and stole my dog – I miss the dog.”

To make matters worse, at least for the dog, is that the same person who stole my dog didn’t even take with their own. Poor Ralph. Ralph had his buddy Winston, my dog, stolen from him as well and was at the same time abandoned by the same person who had abandoned me. So there we were. Quite a pair. Ralph and I (pictured above) both abandoned by the same person.

With the chapters of my life filled out with pages such as these is it any wonder that I eventually became a “The glass is not only half full, but the other half is full of toxic waste” sort of person (I did coin that expression – in fact I have lived it).

All your dreams come true…

Those of you who have seen the original “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with Gene Wilder in the title roll will remember the following scene. At the end of the movie, Gene Wilder’s character looks at Charlie, to whom he has just given his chocolate factory. He looks very concerned as he admonishes Charlie with the following words:

“Charlie do you know what happened to the little boy who suddenly got everything he ever wanted?”

To this Charlie gives a very worried reply, “No what?”

“He lived happily ever after,” says the Gene Wilder character with a big smile.

At that point Charlie goes on to live happily ever after. Me? There was a time I would probably have looked the person who had just given me a chocolate factory straight in the eye and yelled, “YOUR LIEING”

Even after I began to live “happily ever after” I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, why not? In my case the other shoe had always dropped.

If You’re happy and you know it…

There is a song I remember from my childhood that has a line in it that has always stuck out in my mind…

“If you are happy and you know it clap your hands!”

In my case that would have been the sound of one hand clapping. Why? I will tell you why. After all the pain, after all the misery in my life, there reached a time when God reached down his mighty hand and touched my life. He made my life happy.

So what was the problem?

The problem was that I was happy and I didn’t know it.

How can you be happy and not know it? You can reach the point in your life where pessimism becomes self-fulfilling. Yes, when I walk down the street I typically get what I have come to call “the look” What is “the look?” It is when someone not just glances at me, as all people glance at each other when they are on a train or walking down a street. It is when they stare at me and their head looks up and down my body as if to say “does that nun really have a dead baby hanging out of her mouth” Priceless. I have seen that look over and over again.

But how does that make you a relentless pessimist?

I am glad you asked. It is not “the look” itself that makes one a pessimist. It is the frequency. It happens so often that I come to expect it, whether or not it is really there. I forget the person who follows right after the person with “the look” and smiles at me. I forget the person in my office who smiles and says “good morning sister” and remember the person who refuses to get on an elevator with me. Or at least I used to. Does this mean “the look” happens less often than I think it does?


What puts the “P” in pessimist?

Here is an example. The sad truth about Christianity today is that in many cases Christians make the worst Christians.

Okay, how many people just thought “Huh?”

Look at it this way – Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.” What he meant is that democracy may not be the best form of government but it is the best of the worst. Christians can often be the same way, the best of a bad bunch of people. The world is full of people who would sell their grandmother for a nickel. One only has to pick up the average newspaper to realize that. Better a Christian who doesn’t live their faith than someone who has no faith in anything but greed and ignorance. In other words…

Christianity is great if it wasn’t for the average Christian.

“Wait a minute,” you say, “Did I just hear a nun say that?”

Yes you did. You heard God’s little dipstick say that and I am not alone. If you go to church ask yourself “why?” Do you go because you want to? Of do you go because you feel you have to? Do you go because your parents taught you it is the thing to do? Or do you go because you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t?

The churches I have been to are full of people who give me “the look” and worse. There was a time recently when I went up for communion and for a moment the woman who was passing out communion was not going to give me the host because of the way I look. Based on nothing other than her disapproval of my physical appearance. Those of you who have read the rest of my book also know about the church I attended where I was told that they didn’t want “people like me” passing out communion. No. Not pretty, educated well mannered people. They meant people who had once been both genders and looked it.

The big butt (no not mine)…

But that same church also had a woman who attended it (and still does) who is a dear friend. Emma is an 93 year old Irish woman who is the living embodiment of “Mrs. Doubtfire” from the movie of the same name. Emma recently told Mother Superior that every time she goes into the church and sees the woman on the church staff who told me that I was not wanted as a minister of care to pass out communion to the sick, that she thinks of what was done to me. Emma is a woman who is a living saint if ever there was one. Ask anyone who knows her.

But Emma and the people who give me “the look”, the people who refuse to shake my hand, who refuse to talk with me – all those people go to the same church as Emma. It is easy, far too easy, to reach the point in your life where you forget about the people like Emma and remember all the people who are the “bad apples in the barrel” so to speak.

So what is the way out of being a relentless pessimist? The solution can be different for different people. For me, the solution was to find out that I was happy – and know it. How did that happen? How did I find out I was happy? Well my friends, in my case that required a brick up along side the head.

And that is the subject of the next blog…

© 2006 Juliemarie Whitefeather. All rights reserved.