Sue was a bartender suffering from severe anorexia. She was paper thin, all skin and bones with big red hair teased out in every direction. When a friend told her she complained more than anyone he knew, she told him she knew someone worse.
She meant me.
I was dumbfounded. How could she say this about me? Up until the moment she relayed the story, I had never considered myself a complainer. Living outside New York City with my life in flux while my father lay dying, I was barely surviving each day. Teaching school early, after moonlighting as a hotel lounge manager, left very little time for sleep. I was always tired and often sick. Even so, I didn’t think I was unhappy or complaining.
Seeing myself through Sue’s eyes forced me to evaluate. Was I really that bad? Did I concentrate on the bad things in my life and complain too much? After my father’s death I moved to the Washington area, immersing myself in a new life.
Sue passed away two years later. During our last conversation, I tried to convince her I wasn’t a complainer anymore. Life could be so different. She had to find hope and fight to be well. I could tell she didn’t believe me, or didn’t want to believe me.
I’ve spent the last twenty years trying not to be negative, even when situations are at their worst. Mind you, I’m not trying to be positive. That might actually be too much for me.
Most of the time circumstances don’t go your way. You can’t change other people. In the back of my mind, I consciously consider whether Sue would think I was complaining. When you buy expensive tires then the car dies two days later, it’s the perfect opportunity to find the dream car you’ve always wanted. When scaffolding blocks the altar during your son’s communion celebration, you realize the physical space is not important. At the time, the situation might be upsetting, but you find a reason to put aside your bad thoughts and feelings.
Last year my arm ligament ripped, forcing a year of rehabilitation. People noticed and talked to me about their own recurring injuries. Due to their positive attitudes, I never suspected they were fighting pain on a daily basis. Finding others who live each day trying not to be negative was uplifting and made my injury bearable. My pain brought a profound gift of understanding about the strength we all have to endure.
Trying Not To Bneg means acknowledging the bad parts of life. It’s not a denial of your natural reactions of jealousy, anger, anxiety, fear and regret. It’s acceptance and control of these emotions followed by a concentrated effort to find a good outcome. As a jaded cynic, an optimistic outcome always surprises me.
I only wish Sue could have experienced the same bouts of hope. She grasped onto my negativity and wouldn’t let go. Thanks to her, I did.