My mom once worked in a building with a woman she often spoke highly of. The woman’s name was Claudia – a fact that kind of amazes me. Not the lovely name, so much, but the fact that I remember it over 30 years later. Don’t quiz me on the last name, though. I’d never get anywhere close – for all I know she didn’t even have a last name. Claudia had one name, like Cher, and her fame amongst her co-workers rivaled the star’s fame.
My mom would say things like, “I have to get my hair done tomorrow because Claudia will be at that office luncheon and I’m not standing near her with this hair.” Or she’d say, “An UPS man came into the building today and he just stood around talking… no doubt he was waiting for Claudia…” For about 2 years I heard about this captivating woman before I ever met her. Basically I imagined that she looked like Ginger, from Gilligan Island’s fame. If anyone ever said someone was pretty, my young mind pictured Ginger in all her shiny, wiggling glory.
When I finally met Claudia, I thought, “Ginger? No way. She looks more like a Howell… and I don’t mean Mrs. Howell.” When momma introduced us, I even glanced behind the smiling woman, assuming that Claudia had to be hidden behind her. Just as I was wondering about my mom’s eyesight, Claudia began to cast her spell. She smiled a lot, seemed to enjoy being who she was even more than Ginger enjoyed being Ginger, and struck me as someone who was absolutely in love with life.
My mom had to take a call in her office (seriously, how did anyone ever get by before cell phones?), so I was left with Claudia in her tiny little office filled with pictures of her kids and cats for about 20 minutes. She talked about these kids and cats, school lunches, my English teacher. her boss’s wife, my mom, and Dinky’s Dinner (a restaurant up town). She was in favor of all of these people and places. If her words had faces, they’d all be smiling. Later, over supper, my mom told me that she was always like that. Always positive, happy, and glad to be alive. She was, actually, pretty sick (I don’t remember the disease any more than I do her last name), and she had (in the last year) lost her mom who she was extremely close to. Her husband had died when their children were very small. She’d never remarried and still wore her wedding ring. And yet she smiled from the inside out. She radiated happiness.
It left quite an impression on a young me.
Fast forward to 2012. Whoosh! Man, oh man, I get so annoyed with negative people. I’m pretty sure my peace-loving, non-violent self tweeted something out a few days ago about wanting to “tase” surly people in the mouth. Yep, that was me. Negative Nellies (or Petes, Carrols, Clarks, Debbies…) make me all kinds of crazy. They can just be thankful I don’t own a taser or even know where to find one.
Years ago, I watched my dad go though more surgeries and illnesses than most people even SEE in their lifetime, let alone LIVE. During a particularly bad bout one year (he hadn’t been home from the hospital a week), he fell and broke his hip. I cried for him so much I thought my eyes would float out of my head. When I went to see him in the hospital, my eyes were still red and swollen. My spirit was as broken as his hip. I tried to put makeup on the swelling and a band aid across my heart before walking into his room. He had been so proud of being home and so HAPPY to get out of the hospital, only to land (literally) right back in the hospital bed – facing surgery. I knew how crushed he had to be.
I was certain that his spirits would need lifting.
There the man was, lying in his hospital bed – hooked back up to IVs, reaching for his cup of ice. When he saw me, he smiled a big old smile and just kind of shook his head like, “Can you believe it..” I said, “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into!” He said, “I thought I’d change things up a little.” I told him I hoped he was proud of himself and with the one hand that wasn’t hooked up, he gestured with the “little bit” sign.
The man did not complain. Ever. He never asked, “Why me?” He was never surly or mean and bitterness was as far removed from him as self-consciousness was from Ginger.
I thought back to Claudia, but more importantly to Daddy recently (yes, right after the tasing tweet). I was trying to figure out why negative people and sour pusses get to me so badly. I think I hit upon it the minute I pictured my father in a hospital gown smiling and shaking his head. How dare they? How dare anyone waste a precious moment on earth – a precious moment of health – griping about this or that? How dare they think they have the right to treat other’s as though they’re second class citizens?
How dare anyone be surly? What in the world gives them the right?
You know, it just occurred to me – what my dad would say if he heard me ranting about the surly Sams and Sammanthas of the world. He’d say, “You can’t change people. You have to just let them be how they are. Just make sure you don’t become like them.”
But, dad, I’m trying to save the world, here!!!
He, and my mom too for that matter, were BIG on not letting other people change you. I must have heard those words a billion times. If I was upset because a friend had disappointed me, I knew I’d hear, “Don’t let it change you.. Be glad you aren’t like they are.”
Over the years, I took their approach a step further (the self help diva in me began to show herself I suppose). I began to examine my own heart and mind when I’d come across an undesirable trait in someone else. If someone’s lack of will power struck me upside the head, I’d examine my own life – asking if there were areas I grappled with will power. A few nights ago, a surly, sour individual made the hairs on my neck stand up and I asked myself, “Do you ever act that way?”
Thank God… unlike the will power quiz… I passed this one with flying colors. Doughnuts and chocolate may put the smack down on my will power, but I’m simply not a surly person. Thank you, God. It’s ugly! Seriously, negativity and surliness are horrifically ugly things. They can turn the most attractive person in the world to the homeliest in no time at all. No one likes negative, rude, judgmental, or surly people.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is… Before complaining, sighing, or whining about something – ask yourself, “Do I really want to come across like that?” Think of the surliest person you know – ask yourself why on earth you’d want to look like that! If someone doesn’t speak to you when you speak to them – or they make a rude, unpleasant face when you come into the room – ask yourself this question: “Do I behave like that to anyone?”
If someone overreacts to just about everything in life, ask yourself, “Do I do that?!”
Life lessons are everywhere – they’re all around us. Sometimes they’re in abundance in the oddest places – in the people who drive us the battiest.
I learned that just last night. I was watching – and enjoying the heck out of – a baseball game. My St. Louis Cardinals won, so it was a great night for me. Although my cat Alexa and I were lying in the den floor – snacking and loving life – I kept reading some negative tweeters tweeting on Twitter (say that three times fast). They were complaining about this player, complaining about the announcers, griping about this… griping about that… It started to unnerve me and sour my wonderful evening. I put my ipod touch away and had a much better time!
I just can’t figure out why some people think they have to complain about everything?!?! Why are there so many people who are never, never, never satisfied? The announcers are fine – they’re great! The players want to do better than any of us could possibly hope for them to – it’s they’re livelihood. Why not just watch a game and look for good things to talk (or tweet) about? It’d make you a lot happier to look for the good than to keep searching for the bad.
Attitudes are kind of addictive – if you try your best to have a positive, upbeat, and happy attitude, before long you won’t even have to try… it’ll simply be second nature. On the flip side (the ugly one), if you’re constantly surly, negative, and complain with every breath – it won’t be long before this attitude will define you.
The world has enough people who are modernized versions of Scrooge and humanized versions of the Grinch. Don’t be one of them. Be the sort of person like Claudia or, even better, my dad. The type of person people are talking about for all the right reasons long after you’re gone.
Denise Hisey says
What a great post! I had a 2nd grade teacher like Claudia. She made the world brighter every time she walked into a room.
Thanks for the awesome reminder!
PS: I love your humor! 😉