Finding the good in it all
My knee went out while I was going down a silly slippery slide at an amusement park. After hobbling around for several weeks, I finally took medical advice and sat around for days with an ice bag taped to my leg. I had a lot of projects I wanted to tackle, and none of them accommodated a cold pack attached to my body.
A jolly friend took me in and ran errands as I hopped around trying not to be a big grump. On the table sat a book I had given my friend last Christmas. It seemed a little na’ve to me while donning a cold bag of mixed vegetables that served as an ice bag. The title of the book is ‘14,000 Things to be Happy About.’
My jolly friend began to read to me in anticipation of cheering me up. My spontaneous response was to interpret the 14,000 things in light of recent unpleasant experiences. One such entry was ‘bacon slabs,’ which I connected with bad cholesterol and greasy stoves. An entry that followed was ‘cobblestone streets,’ which made me think about twisting my sore knee.
On a better day, I would have recalled family reunions with breakfast cooking when one mentioned bacon, and envisioned quaint, old villages at the thought of cobblestone streets.
I have been editing a television script that includes an interview with Indiana’s premier barn restoration contractor Amos Schwartz. The program is about adaptive reuse of old farm buildings. I asked Amos why he saved deteriorated barns rather than just bulldozing them and starting from scratch.
‘I guess I got it from my mother. She always saw the good in people,’ he answered. ‘Yes, we all have good and bad qualities. She helped me see the positive side of life. I go into an old barn and I see strong timbers and excellent craftsmanship, not decaying wood and cracked beams. I want to build on the wonders in life. There is a lot of good in life, you know?’
Old, deteriorating barns and bumbled up knees are not what we generally think of when we celebrate Thanksgiving. However, I imagine those pilgrims in 1621 had harsher conditions than we do, and they still realized they had a lot to be thankful for. Maybe it is easier to sense our blessings when we have just survived an unpleasant experience. But I certainly don’t think God tests us by sending trouble and pain. It is an old saying that ‘nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’
The pilgrims left us a lesson I often fail to recall: Life is a mix of good and bad. We really do best when we realize we can use this mix to build an awareness of wonderful possibilities and that we need a Supreme Being to help us do this. It isn’t brain surgery to understand that this is something for which to be thankful.
As I sat there, leg propped up and schedule altered, I actually felt a happiness. There were election results to analyze, family gatherings to plan, money to make and even dishes to wash. But wearing a cold pack on my knee slowed me down and caused me to do two things that often get lost in the shuffle: stop and look around to see what really matters, and see friends and family in the room wanting to help.
I imagine those pilgrims helped each other in very basic ways, both materially and spiritually. Their crops failed, their children got sick, their shelters leaked. But they all gathered together to eat and pray. They must have felt the presence of ‘the good’ in life more than the ever-present problems.
Our world today is screwed up in many ways, and, with today’s instant communication, we all know about it. But we also hear and experience the results of the positive side of things, and that is wonderful, loving and productive. The fact that the good elements can prevail is a miracle. It is worth breaking bread and celebrating with friends, family and strangers wherever you find them.
P.S. As I also look closely at the lesser lessons I have realized, it breaks down this way: 1.) Bad side of knee injury: I am too old to go down slippery amusement park slides, and 2.) Good side: At age 77 no one expects me to rake leaves.