Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Matter of Choice

A few weeks ago, my animal communicator buddy and fellow Lake Writer, Karen Wrigley sent me an e-mail titled “A Matter of Choice.” She wanted me to pass it on, but I rarely forward e-mails—especially anonymous e-mails.

Nonetheless, I was curious who wrote it. A bit of Googling produced its real title, “Attitude is Everything,” and the name of the author: Francie Baltazar-Schwartz. This essay is posted on numerous websites. I found it here and here and here.

Maybe you’ve seen it before. If so, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to see it again:

by Francie Baltazar-Schwartz

Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, "If I were any better, I would be twins!"

He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.

Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up to Jerry and asked him, "I don't get it! You can't be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?" Jerry replied, "Each morning I wake up and say to myself, 'Jerry, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood.' I choose to be in a good mood. Each time some- thing bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life."

"Yeah, right, it's not that easy," I protested. "Yes it is," Jerry said. "Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people will affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It's your choice how you live life."

I reflected on what Jerry said. Soon thereafter, I left the restaurant industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.

Several years later, I heard that Jerry did something you are never supposed to do in a restaurant business: He left the back door open one morning and was held up at gunpoint by three armed robbers. While trying to open the safe, his hand, shaking from nervousness, slipped off the combi- nation. The robbers panicked and shot him. Luckily, Jerry was found relatively quickly and rushed to the local trauma center.

After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Jerry was released from the hospital with fragments of the bullets still in his body. I saw Jerry about six months after the accident. When I asked him how he was, he replied, "If I were any better, I'd be twins. Wanna see my scars?"

I declined to see his wounds, but did ask him what had gone through his mind as the robbery took place. "The first thing that went through my mind was that I should have locked the back door," Jerry replied. "Then, as I lay on the floor, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live, or I could choose to die. I chose to live."

"Weren't you scared? Did you lose consciousness?" I asked. Jerry continued, "The paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the emergency room and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read, 'He's a dead man.' I knew I needed to take action."

"What did you do?" I asked.

"Well, there was a big, burly nurse shouting questions at me," said Jerry. "She asked if I was allergic to anything. 'Yes,' I replied. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, 'Bullets!' Over their laughter, I told them, 'I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead."

Jerry lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude. I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. Attitude, after all, is everything.

I come from a long line of pessimists. I remember, when I was a kid, my grandmother and mother always started their conversations (both phone and in person) with “Wadn’t it awful about—” and then they recounted a tale of woe and misery. I don’t remember them being happy. If something bad wasn’t happening at the moment, give it time. It would. I even have letters that my great-grandmother sent my grandmother. All contain complaints or tales of woe. Or both.

When I was a kid, I figured everybody dwelt on life’s miseries while waiting for momentous event that would make them happy. Later, I found that this wasn’t so. I actually met a lot of happy people. Some had no particular reason to be happy. They just were.

A couple of decades ago, I realized that you could choose your behavior or your attitude. You could choose how you react to situations. (I think I learned this in some psychology class I was taking for teacher recertification, but I could be wrong.) Freedom to choose—what a concept!

So, I chose to be happy.

My mother was, of course, horrified that I could be happy when so many bad things were happening all around us—to everyone! The idea that she could choose her attitude was alien to her. She stayed more or less miserable all the days of her life, though she often pasted on a smile and pretended to be happy when she was around people she didn’t know very well. But she didn’t keep the pretense up forever.

One of her health care workers once asked her what she liked to do. “Sit in the dark with my eyes closed,” Mama said.

The health care lady asked me how long Mama had been depressed. “As long as I’ve known her,” I said.

Anyhow, Karen’s email and a comment that “Country Dew” (one of my Pen Women pals) posted on my “So Much to Blog, So Little Time” entry, “You always seem to be enjoying life. I think that is great,” made me think about happiness.

Now, I always thought the “Don’t worry, be happy” slogan from the 1980s was kind of lame—too much like pasting a fake emotion over the real one. And I never cared for pasting those yellow smiley-face stickers all over stuff, either.

I can’t choose the things that happen to me—and bad things can happen to everyone—but I can choose how I react to them. I can choose my attitude.

“Choose” does not mean “paste on.”

Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
~Abraham Lincoln

“Man is the artificer of his own happiness.”
~Henry David Thoreau




Blogger Claudia Condiff said...

Very true about attitude and choices.I never have fit in a mold,I dont choose too!I am loving your book, and thrilled to have found the group and met you.As I said before, people come into our lives for a reason.....
Thanks, Claudia

6:29 PM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

Great post!

7:15 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

Beautiful post Becky, thank you. I really needed that today. I choose for my cold to go away so I can breathe again... happily.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I have always been a big believer of the "Glad Game" from "Pollyanna." Maybe that makes me naive to all of the ugliness of the world, but I always remember Pollyanna and her unbelievable ability to find a something to be glad about every time something goes wrong.

I am "glad" you posted this. After all, optimism IS contagious. Spread the word!

1:19 PM  

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