Saturday, November 12, 2011

onslaughts--real and imagined

Last Saturday I was talking with my parents on the phone. My father writes to the family regularly with insightful comments about his philosophy on life. Earlier that day he had sent us a letter about how stress can be reduced by realizing that much of what causes stress are events that we anticipate, but do not typically occur. He referred to the Mark Twain quote that goes: I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. My brother had responded to this letter by sending several similar quotes.

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you. ~Calvin Coolidge

Some men storm imaginary Alps all their lives, and die in the foothills cursing difficulties which do not exist. ~Edgar Watson Howe

When we were speaking I mentioned the popular book that came out in the late nineties called, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff* (*And it's all small stuff)

But it's NOT all small stuff. The author of the book, Richard Carlson, died at 45 when he suffered a blood clot in his lungs while on a plane. When the stuff is not small, but big, there is no balm.

The day after the phone call, I was reading the Sunday newspaper. I typically read the Sunday papers by first reading the Sports and second reading the book reviews. This indicates, very clearly, my priorities and hobbies. Joan Didion's book, Blue Nights, was reviewed. Blue Nights is a memoir about the death of her daughter. Previously she had written a memoir The Year of Magical Thinking about the death of her husband.

The review was beautifully written and included this line "The author as she presents herself here, aging and baffled, is defenseless against the pain of loss. [The book] is most provocative at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life's worst onslaughts nothing avails..."

I think this is so.

This week I wondered what it is like to be Joe Paterno. A man who was revered up until early this week and who now will forever, wrongly more than rightly, be linked to a scandal. Moreover, I wonder about those who were allegedly victimized by the accused perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky.

My father, as usual, is right about the therapeutic value of not worrying about things that are unlikely to happen. And Calvin Coolidge was right, nine out of ten troubles will not likely be troubling. But the tenth, even for the most resilient among us, is very difficult to overcome.

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