Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I THINK I Believe in Being Positive. Maybe

Oh, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief" used to be one of my favorite prayers--along with "Send my roots rain," and "please, please, please let there be enough money in my account to cover that last check."  (I don't know if it's true there are no atheists in foxholes, but I'm pretty damn sure there aren't too many the day before payday when you really needed that check two days earlier.)
A good friend pointed out that in my previous blahblah blog (I Am Like SO Sure) there's more than a smidgen of negativity.  I think my point was the strength of my conviction--or yours, or anyone's for that matter--has nothing to do with being right, whether it's about a baseball game or the meaning of life.

Still hold with that and she didn't disagree.

However, her point is that believing does make a difference. And, on reflection, I think she's right.  Within the limits of rationality. (And I'm a lover of Lord of the Rings and a universe of infinite possibility and all the weird things light and subatomic particles do--but I don't think I'm going to play for the NBA no matter what I believe.) 

On the other hand--which is where I frequently go without ever having gone to the one hand--belief shapes behavior. That's an easy postulate. We don't have the time or resources to check everything in the world and sometimes we have to act on faith--faith that the waitress at Carrow's isn't out to poison us, that space aliens aren't sending messages through our fillings, all that. Paranoid schizophrenia is an incredibly debilitating illness.  And whatever the opposite might be--trusting everyone and everything?-- is, in my opinion, equally lethal. Believing that everyone has a soul and is a child of god should not lead to going home with the guy with chainsaw unless he's your tree surgeon. There are people who do not wish us well and situations that do not end happily.

Beyond that, I think MM is right in that if you think you can do something, you are far more likely to do it.  And if you believe you can't--well, that's pretty likely too.  If I believe I can go to college, I'm far more likely to look for possibilities for colleges, financial aid, majors I would like.

That's elementary duhness.

Attitude is important too.  If I expect good things to happen I'm going to act in ways that have a chance of attracting good things.  By and large people like to be around positive types unless they're good looking dark and brooding types with an ironic twist of bitter phrase that makes you laugh.

Of course, for a lot of us that might still fall into the category of expecting good things.

Be that as it may....

But where is the point that belief and denial converge and should divide, or--?  I read a story once about the actor Richard Dreyfuss who said that he almost literally never heard negative comments on his acting and his chances.  He was so focused and so sure that he would be a successful actor that no alternative ever entered his thoughts.

Wow.  Straight ahead tunnel vision maybe can move mountains, one more kick will churn the butter (an Irish saying about the frog in a jug of cream), refusing to listen to the people who tell you "why try?" can pay off.

However, and there's always one of those, at least when I'm writing, when I worked as a chaplain's assistant at a hospital I worked on the oncology floor--I worked with cancer patients.  This was at the height of the attitude determines prognosis movement. There were patients who wore smiles always, except--perhaps--in their sleep. Nothing was painful, nothing was difficult, and there was no possibility of anything but victory over the disease.

So, what was wrong with that? Well, for one I don't think denying that having cancer is an absolute bitch is realistic or healthy.

I could be wrong.

What I do recall is the self-flagellation I would see if a negative thought was permitted to cross patients' lips or minds. And if the cure didn't happen, if they were dying, the fault was theirs because they didn't try hard enough, weren't positive enough.  If the family shared this belief, the person died because she didn't want to live.

As Americans (in general) we love fighters. We're right there raging against the dying of the light. Passive acceptance is not our way/

But life happens and death happens (a nurse once reminded me that death is the one appointment no one is ever late for). It's happening now, as my fingers hit the keyboard and the microwave beeps and I remind myself I need to do my timesheet. A pretzel stick is soothing my soul and the slightly old and somewhat bitter coffee is hot. Now.

My bare feet are planted on holy ground.  Wherever I stand, holy ground. I'm not sure what this means and where believing in my dreams fits in to this.

Do I even know what those dreams are worth, what could be, what should be?  At one time I would have ripped my right arm off with my teeth to have our family be the living avatars of the Brady Bunch.Turns out that instead we are us.  Broken marriage but unbroken family--although a lot patched, glued and mended--events happened that couldn't be resolved in 30 minutes or 30 years, just endured and survived. Are their things I would change if I could?  Good Lord, yes! But I don't know if I would, if it meant losing what is. A situation that almost anyone would describe as disastrous resulted in a grandson who is the light of so many lives, who, his mother says, saved her life.

I'm not a person who believes that everything happens for good or is part of god's plan.  If there's a deity that planned Rwanda, I'm not lighting any candles. But I do believe in quilts and mosaics.  Take what is torn and broken and try to piece it together into something that, if not beautiful, might be useful.

It's holy ground.  There's no point in standing in shit and calling it roses--but I can, you can try to plant roses or at least  some onions in it and hope they grow,.

So, I guess I do believe. In believing.

Help thou my unbelief.


  1. If something in my life goes well, I attribute it to my optimism, attitude, and hard work. If something goes badly, I look at it as a learning experience. And if something goes really, really wrong for reasons outside my control, well, sometimes stuff just happens.

  2. The problem with listening to negative messages, is that we humans can believe something negative much more quickly than something positive. Observe people around you, how they react to a bad message "well, he deserved that" or "sure that happened to him because..." and the person who puts a positive spin on things is considered Pollyanna or just plain stupid.

    I like to get up each morning and tell myself that the day will go great if I just smile and reflect a positive attitude. It usually works, but there are times.....

    I have never been a religous person, and that seems to be strengthening the longer I live (not the older I am, please note). Your mentioning Rwanda reminds me of that fact. But I can see the beauty in a sunset, a fresh snow or a babies smile. The beauty in this world and the Universe must be for a purpose. If we only had more time to enjoy it!

  3. Thich Na Hanh says that without suffering there is no compassion and that compassion is the essence of what we should be about.

    I don't know--the beauty of the world and people within it--can be/is so intense, so fierce and transitory--as it the terrible pain that exists in the natural world and the horrendous things that are done to people by people. At the moment I choose to be present, grateful for all that is good and beautiful--and where I can and when I can do something about easing suffering that I can ease. Holy shit!! Am I pretentious!