Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Choosing a Path

Choosing a Path

I recently heard someone say that whenever he sees an adult wearing braces, he smiles. 
Because of the optimism.  
This made me chuckle, and then it made me think.  
Optimism is a tricky thing these days, even for one as preternaturally prone to the characteristic as I.  So many sharp-clawed enemies of optimism are lurking in the bushes, just waiting to pounce on us as we go whistling along our little cosmic pathways, it’s no wonder some of us have taken to wearing the impenetrable armor of Cynicism.  If malignity and mendacity are thriving at every bend in the road it’s best to be prepared when they jump out in front of you on an otherwise beautiful day.  Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and the cynic is rarely defeated.

Cynicism is a hard armor to pierce.  It comes complete with the weapons of apathy and indifference - reliable opponents of feeling - which, used properly or long enough, can easily render one utterly immune to the worrisome vicissitudes of the day.  Before too long, events that would otherwise push you to your knees barely even merit a cursory glance.  You welcome those who urge you to keep your opinions to yourself, those who tell you one person is useless against the tidal wave of history so don't bother, those who dangle shiny objects in front of your face, luring you to distraction and superficiality.   You soon begin to feel quite comfortable in spite of the restrictions such armor can impose.

For it can be difficult to breathe locked tight inside cynicism. You can’t feel the wind in your hair or the sun on your face.  The armor is frankly so heavy you’ll soon find you can’t even run down a beach or bend over to pick up a child.  You can’t lend a hand to a neighbour and of course you can’t even think about kneeling to pray.   But you’re safe, and isn’t that the point?  You can’t be hurt, or worried.  Nothing keeps you up at night.  Nothing alters your plans.  Nothing is your responsibility or concern.  God is in control and requires absolutely nothing from you.  Everything else is a joke, right? Something for someone else to worry about.  Life is good. 

My mind is a busy place, often full of quips and one-liners that zip through at lightning speed.  Some escape from my mouth before I can grab them back; it’s been a lifelong struggle to fence them in.  If indulged too often, these wry observations can gather as one and push me towards the wide path to cynicism when I’d much rather be heading towards mercy and grace.   The ones on the journey to those better angels are not allowed armor, however.   They must walk that narrow road with open eyes and open, often broken, hearts.  They’re required to look directly at the ones in pain and sorrow, they must stop and help the ones in need.  The weather buffets them;  sometimes the wind blows so strong it’s a struggle to stand.  They must hold the hands of faith and mystery, welcoming both as equals. 
It’s the path I’d rather take.

In the continuation of that journey I went to hear the author, Anne Lamott, speak last week. 
 Her new book, Hallelujah Anyway, is one I highly recommend just now. 
And I love this quote by her:

“It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

painting above by Anna Teasdale


  1. "They must hold the hands of faith and mystery, welcoming both as equals.
    It’s the path I’d rather take."

    I'll try to meet you on the path. It is so hard to keep focused and open.

  2. I'm on the path you describe and wouldn't have it any other way. Some seem to give me pitying glances when I declare my optimism...that's okay. I believe there are more good people than bad, and that without hope all is lost.

  3. Two of the things that hold me on the path I hope to follow: Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I tell you: anything you did for one of my brothers here, however insignificant, you did for Me.” And part of a tribute Gloria Steinem wrote after the death of her husband David Bale: “Indeed, he tried never to pass a living thing in need . . .” Thank you, Pamela, for this beautifully written post.

  4. Never commented before....that was the one of best post that I've read in a while.

  5. I so agree with that last quote Pamela, especially at the moment when I am trying to come to terms with the farmer's death

  6. As has happened before with your posts, this one is an incredibly well timed and valuable gift. Thank you.

  7. Lovely post Pamela. At times I feel like I am the only "Pollyanna" left in the world...but I can't live any other way. Makes me happy to know that others on on the same path.

  8. Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors and she is from my beloved Northern California.

  9. What a lovely quote and how prescient.

  10. I'm a great believer in optimism (life motto - "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best")
    But before condemning anyone as a cynic, try to think of it this way - a cynic is just someone who doesn't want to be disappointed again.
    Onward and upward!


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!