(Can you find Zinnia in this photo?)
I made a vow some years ago to never speak poorly of my life, or of the things I experience in life – sickness, death, nasty people. I have succeeded mostly when it comes to writing about my own life.
But I still have work to do. I got so rattled by storms in the last year or two that Maria promised that she’d take care of me when the big one came this weekend.
That is not really who I wish to be.
As the Rev. Graham warned me years ago, if you speak poorly of your life, it might well be listening.
He cautioned me that if I grew older, squawking about gas prices, my life, aging, my health, food prices, taxes, and the weather, I would almost turn out to be a grumpy old man, just like most of the people running our country.
I sometimes slip, of course, and I caught myself last week grousing about all the storms and ice with the people I was running into at the Mansion, the Post Office, the supermarket.
Complaining about things like the weather is almost a greeting in our country, we are the land of complaint and grievance, spoiled and narcissistic.
Up here, almost everybody but the farmer bitch about the weather. The farmers don’t (except when it’s too dry or too wet for the crops) because they live close to nature, and they respect life.
The Rev. Graham saved me that day; I think he helped spare me some of the diseases of Old Fartism, which are mostly about complaining about the way things are and pining for the way they used to be.
Because of him, I woke up this morning and didn’t say, “Oh, Lord, another storm!” but I said instead, well, let’s go out and shovel and have a good breakfast. Maria loves shoveling snow, taking care of the farm, working outside.
Attitude is everything in life, and we grow up in a culture estranged from real life, and shocked by every death, illness, or political conflict. I will get what I bring to it. We had a perfectly good time with this storm, working hard all day, holing up at night reading and talking and sitting by the woodstove with the dogs.
I had some excellent hard cider to drink.
I saw very clearly that if I got up bitching and whining about all the snow.
I was setting myself up for a lousy day, filled with frustration, anxiety, and resentment, checking the creepy Weather Channel – which names their storms to make more money – every two minutes.
I don’t choose to spend my day suffering that way.
I am no Pollyanna; I was a police and political reporter. I understand there are terrible things in the world. But like warnings, I don’t choose to live my life wallowing in them, or shivering in fear of them.
A few people are upset with me because I’m not keeping Zinnia in quarantine, I shouldn’t be letting a 10-week old puppy do the things she’s doing. It was beautiful to let her out after the storm ended this morning. She watched us a shovel and scrape, dove into the snow. She danced in it.
In the past year or so, perhaps after my open heart surgery, I was beginning to get anxious about big storms, and Maria and I talked about it, and she said not to worry, “I’ll take care of you.” I realized the problem was not the storms; it was my deepened sense of vulnerability after they took my heart out and did some work on it.
It was, for sure, a near-death experience, but it also gave me back my life, and for some years. I will never speak poorly of it.
Maria has taken good care of me, but I haven’t needed that much. It was as if being reassured in that way; I could let the fear go and return to my normal, storm, and farm-crisis loving self.
I haven’t turned the chores over to her. And I don’t need to be taken care of any more than she does. I’m writing a lot, shoveling a lot, scraping snow off of the roof, brushing off the cars, doing my work, training Zinnia, going to the Mansion, etc.
I’m doing my share; I’m not a helpless invalid who needs to be taken care of.
Jane wrote me this generous message about one of my photographs: “This is extraordinary. For a technophobe, you can certainly sling that software around. Jon, this is beautiful.”
I thanked Jane, and replied that I’m not a technophobe. I love technology and use it all the time. I’m just a bit crazy, is all.
Rev. Graham’s advice went deeper than it first seemed.
Fear and lament go together. We complain about what frightens us, and if I can curb the one, I can control the other.
I’m eternally grateful to Billy Graham for teaching me not to see the world as a series of unpleasant and unfair crises. Life itself becomes one long complaint, the beauty and joy of it get lost in lament and grievance.
I respect life; I am powerless to alter it or predict it. I can accept it.
Life, like storms, is what you make of it. I’m renewing my vow to never speak poorly of the weather. Next up, technological intrusions, social media.
The snowstorm was a beautiful thing for us. So was the sky when it cleared.
We did a great job shoveling and raking and cleaning up, we loved seeing Zinnia having so much fun, and we had a great time taking care of our farm. Instead of complaining to one another, we were enjoying each other’s company, experience the great joy of working so well together.
I will say I could use a day off from shoveling. So, I think there is Maria. I can accept it, but I don’t have to love it all the time.