Earlier this week I enjoyed a relaxing day. I felt little pressure to accomplish anything having caught up with most of my work, and I was happy as I sat in my recliner and watched a movie with my wife.
We finished the movie and Judy took a nap, and I went into the kitchen and started supper. As I was mincing a clove of garlic the happy feeling came back for no apparent reason, but it was trailed after by a dark cloud. I got the impression that something bad was going to happen soon, that my moment of ease was soon to be replaced by anxious times.
There’s a scene in the Wizard of Oz that has always stuck with me. Dorothy and the Munchkins are dancing around in celebration that the Wicked Old Witch is dead (ding dong). The music in the number gradually picks up speed until the singing and dancing take on an almost hysterical edge. Everyone is just a little bit too excited and happy. And then another Wicked Witch springs up out of the ground in a cloud of smoke and ruins the party.
My grandmother could have written that scene. She used to tell my uncle, “If you’re laughing in the morning you’ll be crying by noon.” Maybe it’s just a German-American thing, but a lot of folks from my background have difficulty enjoying relatively carefree stretches of time in their lives. They think that there must be some sort of time delayed bomb hidden in the works that will explode when they least expect it. They spend their time getting ready for disaster before there are any signs that anything bad is about to occur. This is probably a good survival technique, but it calls into question the worthiness of preserving a life that has so little true joy.
Nothing bad happened during the rest of that day. We ate a pleasant supper and talked for a long time after and felt close to one another. My black cloud didn’t rain. But a few days later I got some unfortunate news that I had been half-expecting for a while. I was prepared for it having pre-disastered the situation using my German-American techniques. Whenever I thought about this issue over the three months prior I had been careful to shoot down any bluebirds of good cheer and optimism before they had a chance to roost in my mind. I knew that they would taunt me with songs of hope that I’d better not trust.
Now that the outcome had indeed turned out to be bad, I had a black crow of depression perched on my shoulder. He was wet and bedraggled, and his rasping croaks weren’t comforting at all. But he and I shared a friendly nod. We’re not best buddies, but we’re very familiar with each other.
But I’m not content to let things remain this way. I’m tired of both the bluebird and the black crow, and playing the German-American game of preemptive negativity is wearing me down. I’m going to go Buddhist and pay more attention to the here and now to see if I can find some peace of mind. The Buddhists claim that everything we need can be found in the expansive reaches of the present moment, and that spinning scenarios about the past and the future does nothing but create pointless suffering. I get that.