February 15, 2012 § 8 Comments

I carry a mental picture for many words, including “attitude.” My image illustrates the word’s number one dictionary definition: A position of the body or manner of carrying oneself.

“Attitude” is a man hurtling toward earth. He’s fallen from a high place; not so high that death is certain, but it is definitely a possibility. What he does next is critical, how he arranges his body for impact will make all the difference.

The results of falling–or jumping–from a great height will always be bad, but how we choose to meet the moment of impact is up to us. Here are some attitudes that, while counterintuitive, often work.

Arms at your sides:

In my father’s last go-round with a heart that had been unreliable for more than twenty years he opted for a heart valve replacement surgery that had a 25% mortality rate. A glass-half-full kind of guy, he opted for the surgery, but right after the semicolon in his “let’s give it one more shot” declaration were the words; “and if it doesn’t work, I have no complants, it’s been great.”

He joined that 25% serene. Arms at his sides, he took what came without a fight, ceding his life back to the same force that had given it to him.

The struggle for immortality will always be lost, so when the time comes I hope I will follow my father’s example and not whine that I’ve been cheated. It happens to everyone so why not exit with grace? Death is only as big a deal as we make it.

Become your enemy:

You are your present self due to a fairly random series of situations. Alter the trajectory of the events and you could be almost anyone, even that jackass with whom you are now standing toe to toe. Instead of shouting in his face and resisting his arguments, matching force with force, tell your persistent righteous self to go silent.

Become, if only for a moment, the person you are opposing.

Believe, if only for a moment, that he is right and then imagine that possibility out loud.

Your “enemy” will lower his guard and there you’ll be, two humans staring at a shared problem, struggling with it together.

Stand up:

This one is very hard for a go-along person like me, but sometimes you must be the nail that refuses to be pounded in. You must stand stubborn for that thing you believe, or plant your feet and resist that act you can’t commit.

You may look around and see that you stand alone and wonder, why can’t I just sit down like everyone else? Wonder instead why it is so easy for them to sit.

Raise your eye level:

My mother had been in the hospital for a while making a slow recovery from a stroke. I returned home to work for a few days before going back. Then the phone rang. It was my sister. My mother had had another, far more catastrophic stroke, one from which she would not recover.

As this personal tragedy was being delivered I glanced out the window. The kids next door were jumping off the roof onto a trampoline. And I felt better. No matter how bad things were for me and the small circle of my family, life, in all its exuberance would be there when we came back to it. The rest of humanity would keep the lights on in our absence.

When life is most bleak look past your immediate surroundings and find the horizon.

Between you and that edge of the world are a million lives unaffected by your sorrow.

The machinery of joy still works, the enterprise of life goes on.

Take comfort in your insignificance.


I’ve only managed this in those blessed couple of days that signal the end of a bout of flu. The throwing up, coughing, aches and fever have passed and sleep piles on like a down comforter.

But when awake, I stare at the water-glass on the nightstand or the weave of the bedspread, or the pinhole pattern of the ceiling tiles, and really see what is in front of me. It is a vacation from the chatter of everything all at once. It is as still and silent as this world gets.

Let out your breath:

You’ve been holding it for so long, as if with discipline you could control the things that should occur involuntarily. Some things are meant to take care of themselves.

Let them.

Note: I apologize for including the deaths of both my parents and one entry, but I learned from those experiences. Disaster is a stern but thorough teacher.

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