Somebody accused me, re: my last column, of being “Debbie Downer,” although I certainly didn’t mean it to come across that way. So this week, I’ve decided to talk about happy, perky, jolly things. To be Ms. Pollyanna 2011. If you can remember that Leslie Gore song, “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” you can hum along.
I love puppies, and kitties, and sunshine, and flowers, and nice people, and what Henry James famously called “the two most beautiful words in the English language”: summer afternoons. Let’s take these one at a time and explore their wonderfulness.
Puppies – What’s not to love? They are cute and little and squirmy and licky and funny and just plain adorable. I grew up terrified of dogs, especially large ones. When I got to college, though, my boyfriend talked me into getting a baby Labrador Retriever. We went to the home of the mother, and found a mound of puppies, tussling and playing and falling all over their oversize feet. Those feet, of course, meant they would grow much larger. We picked the friendliest of the litter, and by the time she grew up, Zooey weighed well over 50 pounds. She was a loving, curious, protective companion, and I haven’t been afraid of dogs since.
Kitties – Oh, really, they are just so sweet I can’t stand it. They are so fluffy! So silly! So playful! And their eyes are so blue when they’re little! They grow up much too fast, so you have to make the time to enjoy a cat while it’s still a kitten. Take lots of pictures and videos. Our Leo, a rescue from the Humane Society, had the cutest habit when he was young and mischievous. When he was done playing with the little rubber balls we tossed his way, he would deposit them into our shoes. Awwww.
Sunshine – As I write this, it’s a glorious day out there. From my second-story study window I can see our graceful maple tree, dappled with the bright sunshine of August. It’s beautiful in the spring and fall, too, but right now it’s in its glory, and the sunshine it allows into the room is helping the plants in the window to grow. Their leaves reach out for it, and if I didn’t turn the plants every week, they would all be pressed up against the glass. No wonder. Sunshine is the very source of life!
Flowers – What says “love” more than flowers? And also “Have a great day” and “Get Well Soon”? My daughter sent me flowers after I started my newest job. I began in the middle of a week, so she waited and sent a bouquet bearing the message, “Happy First Monday!” Right now I have a volunteer petunia growing out of a crack just below my front steps, two blooms so far out of the concrete. It’s the happiest little flower I’ve ever seen.
Nice people – Well, duh. Who wants to be around a grouch? My hairdresser told me a great story about her trip to Ireland. Worried about missing their early morning flight out of Dublin, they did a trial run the day before, but got lost. Spotting a young man near the highway, the foursome asked for directions. Not only did he provide them, he insisted on riding along in their car, pointing out the way and showing them where they’d made their initial wrong turn. Then they took him back, dropped him off, and found their way the next morning with no trouble at all. The world is full of people like this, and it helps to remember that.
Summer afternoons – What can I say? As I write this, it’s 3:00 p.m. on an August day. The sun is shining, the clouds are high and fluffy, a light breeze is coming in my open window, and it’s neither too warm nor too humid. Although I no longer “lay out,” as we used to call baking in the sun until our limbs were the color of a well-done roast chicken, I absolutely love the fact that in the summer, one can leave the house without a coat, hat, gloves, muffler, or space heater. Even being inside with the windows open in summer is better, in my opinion, than being outside on a sleet-strewn February day.
Rainbows are amazing, too, but I’ve outgrown lollipops, unless you’re counting Tootsie Roll Pops, which I do still indulge in occasionally, as long as I can find one in cherry. So, you see? I like happy things, too.
It’s just that, as a writer, I can’t look only at the bright side. If we were all constantly happy, no one would get anything done. No one would be authentic. Uncomfortable emotions would have to be tamped down, ignored, suppressed, and we all know what happens when we try to do that. Some authors’ entire life’s work consists mainly of “downer” literature. Take Solzhenitsyn, or Dostoyevsky, or a non-Russian like Sylvia Plath (one of my favorite poets) who aren’t afraid to look death and grief in the face. It’s what makes us truly human, this ability to see the other side of the happy, shiny coin.
After all, pets die, both the puppies and the kitties. It’s sad. It’s really sad. Sunshine can cause migraines and skin cancer. Flowers fade and fall. Nice people can have a bad day, snapping at their most beloved friends. And summer afternoons sometimes carry thunderstorms, breeding hailstorms and tornados.
So, no. I’ll never be Pollyanna Pam. But even at my darkest – like last week’s column, a letter for my children to read after I die – there is love, and care, and deep appreciation for this light and dark thing called life.