Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Straining to See Through the Windshield, Covered with a Gathering Layer of Ice" Thoughts on Positive Thinking

             It is 6:45 am on a Wednesday morning.  There is a light snow and with the darkness and streetlights, a magical kind of picture, winter framed, emerges.  I'm on my way to work.  By my side is the at risk student I work with every day.  I've been bringing her to school and picking her up since she returned from a suspension in December as an intense intervention.  I hand her a hot cocoa, she pulls out an earbud and says, "Thank you."   We engage in the kind of random and mundane morning talk about "How did you sleep?" and "This snow is pretty."  and "Who are you staying after with today?"  She is testy this morning, having gone to bed way past what I would consider a good bedtime.  Then she reveals: her best friend is moving away.  And, even though she may not admit it, I know the pending school vacation is going to be tough for her as she will be going away to visit her siblings.  Seems like a great thing, but she will have to leave them again at the end of the week.  I reassure her that it is ok. Still, I know she worries about them.  I tell her,  "You will make new friends." I tell her she will see her little brother and sisters again.  I tell her, "Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out."  I encourage her to use social media to connect with her friend and siblings.  She is still downtrodden.  I smile and give her shoulder a squeeze and we pull into school. I tell her "Have a great day.  I'll see you at 3."  She says, "You too," and shuts the door.
             I am nearly 40 years old, have a satisfying albeit stressful job, a caring and compassionate life partner and some pretty awesome kids.  We have a lovely home, a new SUV, and another car that's been paid off.  He has a reliable and good paying job.  We buy mostly organic food and make healthy lifestyle choices.  While we are conscientious of the money we spend, we are able to afford to live a comfortable lifestyle.
             I am a part of the middle class.  I say things like, "I'm blessed," and when times are tough I say, "This too shall pass."  When I spill a cup of coffee on myself (which I've done countless times) I'm able to laugh about it or rationalize it.  If my plane is delayed, my car breaks down, or my plumbing backs up and I have to call a professional, it's not that I'm happy about it, but mentally I am conditioned to believe that these things are temporary and that good things are just around the corner.          
        Not only am I living a life of physical luxury, but I'm also living a life of mental luxury.  There is a cultural shift right now, as I write and you read, to be "mindful," to "live every moment," and to "see the blessings in the everyday and simple things." There is a movement in which mental toughness and zeroing in on the good is at the forefront.   I admit I too am just as part of that paradigm as anyone else.  But let's be honest, (for the moment).  We are able to do this because we have a life of comfort.  It's true...  When something bad happens to me, I have the support of the people around me who are able to give me sound, productive and constructive advice.  I am able to reason through a series of wise steps, and chances are if I need some kind of therapy or care, I am able to access it for as long as I need it.  Living this lifestyle, I have things I look forward to: vacations to sandy beaches with friends, hiking excursions, that new book I just can't wait to read.  These things and people give me a sense of well being and hope that there is some kind of meaning to this existence, and the financial resources and education I have helps me evaluate the situations as they arise and respond accordingly.  This is why I understand that a setback is temporary and that I will persevere.
             But what happens if you are a single mom on a limited budget.  Your partner left you for another woman.  You've gained some weight and as much as you'd like to work out and eat healthy, you don't have the time and you can't afford to (having access to clean and organic food, vitamins, salt lamps, essential oils, paraben and sulfate free products isn't something you can't afford).  Your boss is just that, a boss, and not understanding when you have to take time off for sick kids.  Today, on your way to work, you are thinking about how you are going to be able to afford to pay the electric bill since your children's father hasn't given you money in as long as you can remember.  You have no heat in the car and the muffler is rattling.  It needs to be fixed.  Your youngest child has an awful cough and you spent your last five dollars on medicine for him.  You drive by Tim Horton's and look at the line of cars, wishing you had that luxury.  There is a soft snow falling, but you don't see it.  You are straining to see through the windshield which is covered with a gathering layer of ice.  You wipe it away again and bang on the dashboard.  You hope it will shake the defrost, but at the very least it relieves some tension.  Your feet are frozen.  You are wearing the boots you got at a garage sale and the socks have multiple holes in the toes.  They were all that was clean.  You haven't had time to make it to the laundromat this week.  Or the money.  Maybe this weekend you can go.  You decide you can save some money by hanging the wet laundry around the house, instead of using the dryers.  You signal and slowly turn a corner, but your car begins to fishtail despite your caution.  The back end slides into a light pole.
               Shall we tell this woman "This too shall pass?"  How do you think she will get to work now that she has no car?  She is already thinking about what she can sell in her house that might pay for whatever needs to be covered.  She has a microwave.  She thinks maybe she can get 20$ for that.  A gold ring with a topaz her grandma gave her when she graduated from high school, when it seemed like maybe she would go somewhere with her life. She never made it to college.  She met him and she thought she was in love.  Then the babies came.  He barely acknowledged her.  He came home when he needed a meal and a bed.  She had only one person. Then that one person who meant the world to her, her grandma, died. The only woman she could ever rely on.  She didn't want to sell that ring, but she knew she might have to.  She gets out of the car and looks at the pole.  It doesn't look to have any damage.  Her car is another story.  She doesn't know how she is going to do it.  She wants to give up.  It's too hard.
               The power of positive thinking, you say?  Being positive is more complicated than we give it credit.