Looking up in a world of downers

Note: This column appears in the 8/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/5 issue of the Peoria Times

I wouldn’t necessarily call it naïveté, but when I was younger I had a much more minimalistic outlook on life. Sure, I thought about the bad things every now and then, but it never really stuck with me. People get sick? That stinks. Hey, Woody Woodpecker is on! This is, I think, an integral part of a child’s makeup, as no kid should be contemplating such matters.

When I was a teenager, and then a young adult in college, I retained a fundamental understanding of reality, but I was nevertheless, like many of that age throughout history, invincible. Even when news or a particular event would strike my mind as something to consider, I still acted otherwise. With blinders, blissfully undeterred.

Suddenly I am a full-grown adult with a family and a slew of new perspectives and fears, and when unfortunate news is revealed—no matter how far removed from my own day-to-day life—it stays with me in a way it never has before. And whether coincidence or as a direct result of this newfound and rather unwitting and acute awareness, it seems like unfortunate news is revealed more and more often these days.

Should, however, any such news manage to slip past me, my parents, who are in a more advanced stage of morbid awareness, will alert me immediately, usually at the outset of any conversation. Did you hear about (the awful thing) that happened to (good, innocent person)? This, combined with consistent attention to the obits—Did you hear (person I cannot remember from my childhood despite their insistence that I do) died?—makes for pleasant small talk.

It used to be a running joke between us “kids” how the adults at family functions always managed to find the common ground of morbidity. A birthday party or graduation, it seemed, was yet another event to remind them of their own mortality. Yes, there would be cake, but first they must discuss who is sick, and who is dead, and how imminent the threat of terrorism/natural disaster/recent political decision is right now. “Debbie Downers” we would call them, as we lightened the mood by changing the subject to something more comically inane.

But now, like the adults, I too sometimes find myself preoccupied with such matters, unsure if or when to reveal these concerns as a topic to which others can relate (i.e.: this is supposed to be a humor column, right?). Of course anyone can relate—we all share common fears and anxieties—but few ever really agree on an appropriate occasion to do so. As a result, we are often left to our own devices, and solitary occasions like a sleepless Sunday night. Good times!

Luckily for me, and many others I am sure, said childhood was grounded in a foundation of faith, which has served me well, and better each year as misfortunes mount, some resolved, some ongoing, some viewed from afar. And while those who lack it often view faith as a mere coping mechanism—coping is difficult regardless—those who boast it recognize it as something much greater. Truth. Actual reality. To be honest, I don’t know how some people get by without it.

Strife abounds, but faith—like a teenage me, except even more so—remains invincible. And while I may have Debbie Downed this entire paper, the point is a positive one. And that is this: Have faith. Eventually, there will be cake.


Dr. Prof. Brilliant said…
Your family is the quintessential example of why the obits are known as "the Irish Sports Page."