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Gratitude and Humor
"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life..."
There’s much to be thankful for, even in spite of all the problems in the world today. And if there’s anything you can’t be grateful for, hopefully you can at least see the humor in it. As Inspector Clouseau said, after he fell into a fountain and got drenched, “It’s all part of Life’s Rich Pageant, you know.”1
A Sense of Gratitude
I was reminded how good I have it after a recent incident involving one of my parakeets, Skylar de Green (my kids named him). A couple of days ago, little Skylar injured his leg in a freak accident. I was worried he might have broken it (the downside of having bones that are lightweight enough for flight is that they break more easily), so we took him to the vet, who gave him a thorough examination. Fortunately, it was (as the late Black Knight famously said) just a flesh wound, and little Skylar was sent home the same day with some medicine to bring down the swelling in his foot.
Now, talk about First-World problems. Not only do the humans in my household have access to quality healthcare, but so do the animals. Animals! And not even farm animals with actual jobs to do, nor even racehorses with real financial prospects for their owners to protect, but just our regular pet birds, who do nothing all day but play and sing.2
I know we’ve had plenty of problems lately with our medical establishment, which was used by Big Pharma and corrupt public officials to promote a profitable (to them) scamdemic, but it’s still a real blessing to know that if you or your loved ones suffer serious illness or injury, you can get quality healthcare. Depending on what health insurance you have (or don’t have), it may be ruinously expensive, but when it’s a matter of life and death, even overpriced healthcare is better than nothing. Much better.
Back when I was an uneducated restaurant worker without any health insurance, I had a fairly serious burn on my arm that got badly infected. Being uninsured, I went to the E.R., and since I didn’t have insurance, I got charged the regular rate, which is significantly higher than the rates insurance companies negotiate for their policyholders. Getting the wound lanced and bandaged and getting a shot of antibiotics cost me almost a thousand dollars (this was many years ago — God only knows what it would cost today), which was more than a month’s worth of income for me at the time, so it was a lot of money; but I managed to keep a positive attitude about the debt (which I eventually paid off) by reframing it: I bought a fully functional arm for less than $1,000.00, which was absolutely worth it.
[Note: I did not know then what I know now, which is that in a situation like that (being uninsured with a big hospital bill) you absolutely can and should negotiate with your creditor to reduce your balance. I paid the entire debt without negotiating any discounts for myself, but it was still absolutely worth it, to retain the use of my arm. Still, if you are ever in that situation, you should at least negotiate your bill down to an amount similar to what insured patients pay.]
Despite the problems with our healthcare system and all the unnecessary expenses and waste and even fraud caused by meddlesome government officials and greedy insurance company executives, we are still extremely fortunate to have access to the kinds of essential medical treatments that are available to us in the West.3
A Sense of Humor
Another thing I’m grateful for is humor, which is as close to literal alchemy as any human technology presently is. With humor, you can take the negativity in life — pain, heartbreak, disappointment, frustration, failure, loss, injury, illness, injustice, you name it — and turn it into something enjoyable, perhaps even something that others will be happy for you to share with them.
Now, there is almost nothing about marriage that our postmodern culture makes easier. Many, perhaps most, marriages are dysfunctional and end in divorce. Having a healthy, happy marriage requires far more foresight, planning, dedication, discipline, self-sacrifice, strength of mind and character, and hard work than many of us (myself included) actually have. Obviously, this creates a lot of heartache and woe, but it also creates the opportunity for some of the very best music and comedy, like that of the late, great Sam Kinison. Here is a clip (embedded below) of Kinison on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson singing his version of the Elvis classic, Are You Lonesome Tonight (I like Elvis, but for my money, Sam’s version is much better):
Now, maybe such comedy would still be funny to you, and maybe all those great songs about heartbreak would still be enjoyable to you, even if you had never gone through it yourself; but if you’ve shared the experiences and the emotions behind some great art, you enjoy that art on a much deeper level.
A Better Attitude
With all the craziness and corruption in our world today, we have to be intentional about reorienting our perspectives in a helpful direction, by any means necessary. A lot of things really suck right now for a lot of people. Real problems should not be papered over or handwaved away; but Life includes some amount of unpleasant bullshit that we have to endure whether we want to or not, so we might as well make the most of it. Cultivate a sense of gratitude and a sense of humor4, and these, in turn, will help us cultivate a better attitude. And if we foster as beneficial an attitude as we can, we will be more hopeful, more clearsighted, more energetic, more healthy, more resilient, etc.: in a word, more capable of overcoming the challenges we face.
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Line from the movie A Shot in the Dark; also, the inspiration for one of R.E.M.’s best albums.
In this way (the way little birds get cared for), maybe America is a little bit like the Kingdom of Heaven. As little Skylar de Green recuperates, I’m reminded of the passage from the gospels where Jesus said that even though you could buy two sparrows for a farthing, not even one of them ever falls to the ground without God’s knowledge. (Matthew 10: 29.) Of course, the chickens we ate for dinner tonight were not as lucky as our parakeet was — but I suppose not one of those hens gets her throat slit at the slaughterhouse without God also knowing about it. Thoughts and prayers, you chickens. Maybe God can reincarnate you as a parakeet next time.
Since I referenced it in the subtitle, here’s the clip from Life of Brian where Eric Idle sings, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: