Archive for April, 2012

Stories in My Head

By Doobins

This column first appeared in the March 2012 issue of Forsyth Family magazine:

Every now and then, I come upon a gem in my reading that I keep ever after. Such was the case when reading about a man who lived out in the country with his son. They didn’t have much money, the man said, so they had to do without a lot of things. But, without fail, he took his son into town every Saturday afternoon for a scoop of ice cream. “Everybody needs something to look forward to,” the man said.

I had no doubt that I had heard some version of that truth many times before. That time, though, it made an impression, and, ever since, when something brings to mind the power of positive expectations to dispel gloom or simply to add sparkle to the days between now and then, I picture the man and his son going into the drug store after a week filled with lots of dust and hard work and the soda jerk reaching across the lunch counter and handing the boy a refreshing cone of ice cream.

I suspect that part of the reason the man and boy have stayed with me over the years is that the images are so satisfying to imagine. It’s also a reminder that whatever you’re looking forward to doesn’t have to be something big. I think it making an impression also has to do with timing. After I was out on my own, I was struggling with something when the thought came to me, “Why didn’t anyone tell me that life was going to be like this?” As time passed, I realized that, when I was growing up, adults in my life had indeed pointed out that life could be like this. It wasn’t that no one had told me; it was that I hadn’t been ready to see it.

I have another satisfying image that I associate with the importance of timing. It comes from a story about Miyomoto Musashi, the renowned Japanese swordsman and author of The Book of Five Rings who observed, “There is timing in everything.” As the story goes, Musashi arrived early for a fight and climbed a tree. After his opponents arrived, he stayed hidden as they waited and waited. Once the wait discombobulated them, he jumped down and dispatched them. Now, when I’m wound up about something not happening when I want it to and remember that waiting can bring positive results, I picture him dropping out of the tree.

The old saying, “We all eat a peck of dirt before we die” gave me the image that goes with the truth that life brings pain to everyone. It came to mind the other day when I read a story about people criticizing a celebrity who ended up in the hospital suffering from “exhaustion” after her husband left her. She’s beautiful and rich, the critics were saying, “How bad could her life be?” An absurd thing to say, of course. And, given our tendency to imagine that, if only we had power, wealth, fame or beauty, life would be so much better, I could see how being beautiful and rich could make the emotional pain that life inevitably brings even more devastating.

Perhaps a dear friend will call her up and invite her out for a cone of ice cream.