Friday, January 1, 2010

Pandora never has a crappy year

Wordle: 2009 In One Word

NPR did a quick survey asking people to describe 2009 in one word. I was surprised at how negative it was, if only because NPR listeners tend to be more liberal with higher education levels that make them less susceptible to losing their jobs in the midst of a depression. (Then again, when "sucky," "sucked," and "suckfest" were used several times, you have to wonder about education levels...)

Pessimism is so odd to me. If I had what many would consider a bad year, I would just be grateful that I wasn't homeless, a refugee, living in a warzone, had all my limbs, was healthy, etc. I would look at the highlights of the year - seeing a young Reds prospect make his Major League debut, a concert I attended, a person I met - and use those to define the year. You know, the small things. They all add up to be the biggest anyway.

To me, pessimism is the sentiment of a life unfulfilled, someone who isn't living life to the fullest, someone with a spiritual void. I imagine a pessimist spends many hours in front of the television or within the confines of a gray cubicle beneath the harsh tones of a fluorescent light. Fluorescent life. A pessimist has ceded control of his life to outside forces.

2009 was a crappy year for the economy, it is true, but you don't need money to enjoy life. Playing ball in the backyard with your kids is free, or if you don't have a backyard, in a local park. Reading a good book from your local library is free. You don't need to take your kid to Pump It Up for a birthday party - bake a cake and pin the tail on the donkey. It's all the extra things that people couldn't do that make so many say it was such a crappy year.

If a person's year is a "suckfest," that's a character flaw - he didn't do the things that could give him fulfillment. Yet so many people blame everyone else - blame the government, blame the corporations, blame the rich, blame the poor people who took out loans they couldn't afford to chase the American Dream. They blame, blame, blame while they sit in their living rooms filled with fancy televisions, DVRs, and a $100 a month television bill, wondering how long they'll be unemployed, wondering how they'll pay the credit card bills, worrying about this and that material possession.

Sure, worrying is natural. But it shouldn't define your year. It shouldn't make 2009 a "suckfest." Here's a real suckfest:

A few weeks ago, I walked by a man and two boys on a corner of a DC street. He was middle-aged, white, well-dressed, and the boys were playing with some toys right there on the sidewalk. The stores around us had recently put up Christmas displays, and as the sun had already left us for the day, the air was getting cold. My heart was broken when I saw what he was holding. It was a cardboard sign with neatly drawn letters that said, "Please help. We're homeless." I nearly started bawling right there on the street corner amidst the Christmas lights and window displays calling people to buy things they didn't need. The man had a difficult time looking at people's faces - shame filled his eyes. The kids, who were also well-dressed, were in awe of everything around them, like they'd never been to a big city before. It seemed to me they were newly homeless.

I walked several blocks up towards Dupont Circle wondering how it had come to that for that family. What had been the man's job before he lost it? Where was the mother? How long were they behind on their house payments before they were evicted? Why did they have no friends or family to stay with? And then I thought about the thin line between courage and desperation. How long had he put off standing on the street corner asking people for their spare change? There was still a pride in his face, a pride that has long since left the hardened veterans of the streets. Had he stood in front of a mirror in a communal bathroom in a homeless shelter that morning, trying to psyche himself up to go out there as he smoothed out a wrinkle in his white button down shirt? How courageous he must be to face the humiliation of begging.

I only saw him that one time. The faces of the Dupont-Farragut homeless are now familiar to me, but he has not been among them. That gives me hope that he has found a job or a place to stay.

I guess some people have a right to say they had a crappy year.

I have a few wishes for 2010: Peace on Earth. Horny teenagers no longer blowing themselves up for 72 virgins. Americans no longer throwing around the words "fascism," "racism," and "socialism" so they lose their meanings. Glenn Beck getting fired. The Bankee$ finishing in last place and the Reds winning the World Series. People coming to see the quest for material possessions is not a good thing. Americans getting to know their neighbors. Adults reading books written for adults again. An end to pessimism.

Fortunately, "awesome" and "hope" were two of the big words on the collage. That's a great start.

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