Ungrateful, angry, discontented…I’m sick of dealing with people with these lousy attitudes. But how can I avoid myself?
My friend Deb at The Monster In Your Closet got me thinking. She does that a lot, and I wish she’d knock it off. This time Deb got me cogitating about gratitude and attitude. It’s a topic I struggle with, and it’s getting worse as I get older.
I have a ton to be thankful for. I know it. Really and truly I do. And I am grateful. I have an embarrassment of riches that I have done nothing whatsoever to earn. Although I don’t think earning enters into the equation. We don’t deserve good things any more than we deserve bad things. Stuff happens. It happens to everybody. But there’s a hell of a range on the stuff-o-meter, isn’t there? That’s my problem.
When stuff happens to me, even little, stupid stuff, I want to kick somebody.
Life gave me snow recently, and I made snow cones out of it, blogistically speaking. Funny, right? But I wasn’t laughing at the time. I was fuming.
As my hands were trying to dig my car out of a mountain of snow, my brain was compiling a list of all the lousy things that had happened to me in the previous 12 hours: “Top 10 Examples Of How Unfair Life Is To Poor Me.” I was consumed with righteous anger, as if getting stuck in the driveway and waiting 1/2 hour for a salad at a restaurant were tragedies worthy of a Greek chorus.
It was nothing. NOTHING! What the hell is the matter with me?
It’s not just unreasonable anger; I get swamped with unreasonable despair, too.
Three beloved family members are battling cancer. My sister Lib, brother Bill, cousin Moe – all are carrying their crosses with a faith and courage that leaves me shaking my head in helpless admiration. Yet even as I admire them, the thought of their suffering threatens to overwhelm me at times. They are moving forward, despite their struggles, and I am getting bogged down with worry about those struggles. Huh??
I think the best antidote for excessive self-absorption is to look outside oneself. Since my kids have left home, I volunteer at church, am a tutor for immigrants learning English, and help out a couple of times per month with my husband at the homeless shelter. That sounds so Braggy McBraggart it makes me cringe. But I’m telling you so you will understand that I am trying. And so you will understand the self-congratulation/condemnation see-saw I’m constantly riding. Because I’m just not feeling it.
I don’t want to do any of those things.
Oh, I fulfill my obligations. I go to the shelter and serve food, wash dishes and do other busy work. But I’m not blazing forth as a chatty, cheery ray of human sunshine. Part of that is distaste at the thought of coming off like condescending Lady Bountiful dispensing charity to the less fortunate. Part of it is because that sort of thing is out of my comfort zone. Bottom line: I don’t want to.
This is how uncharitable I am. A 12-year old kid and his mom have been at the shelter for 5 months. How tragic is that? Of course I do whatever I can to help, right? Help the lad with his homework, rap with him about Pokemon and such, right? No. No I don’t. I’ve never been good with kids of that age, and this one is hyper, loud and annoying. I serve him dinner with a fake-but-trying-to-be-genuine, pasted-on smile, and otherwise try to avoid him.
It’s tough enough to be totally honest with others, but it’s even more difficult to be totally honest with myself. I’m not fishing for reassurance that I’m a good person – don’t go there. I just want us to discuss a couple of things:
- Do good works offset a lousy attitude?
- Is increasing negativity a function of age?
- Am I the only one who has to give herself these same gratitude/attitude pep talks over and over again, because they don’t seem to take?
- If we are immeasurably blessed compared to others, are we unforgivably ungrateful to let anything bother us?
Is it my bad when my bad isn’t too bad, but it still makes me feel bad?
Guess I’ll keep plugging along, with frequent “notes to self” to count my blessings. And if I can’t help throwing myself the occasional pity party, I’ll try to make it a small one. Just a little cake and ice cream, no gifts, and absolutely no clowns crafting balloon wiener dogs.