— James Branch Cabell
I question everything, trust no one and evaluate all sides of every issue before resting on a decision. I like to think this pessimistic outlook is what makes me a good journalist (which is open for debate), but it also causes a lot of grief.
I’ve always been this way. It doesn’t make a ton of sense because I had a wonderful upbringing with the best family imaginable, but even as a child I spent a lot of time alone, carefully observing the world outside of our home and thinking things like, “How is anyone buying this?”
Then there was my brother Wade. Born just 13 months after I was, we were almost identical to look at but our outlook on life was vastly different. Some of my happiest memories are of times when I let go of my pessimistic attitude long enough to partake in his happy-go-lucky adventures.
Over the years, my trust-nothing outlook has been validated by an array of horrific experiences ranging from loved ones committing suicide to nearly losing my life in an abusive relationship to trying to survive the second Great Depression.
These days, when it often seems we are living in a pre-apocalyptic world (which I don’t believe in, by the way) I find happiness in small doses. But this morning I saw something that made me want to abandon the ship of cynicism.
I was feeling especially grinchy after watching the news from Japan, where the death toll from last week’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami continues to mount, when I stepped out onto the porch to get away from the tragic images on the television. From our top-floor balcony that overlooks a canal and sagebrush-covered hillside, I saw a little boy playing by himself.
The boy had a stick he was using as a sword and he had stuck a long piece of plastic pipe in the ground with a “flag” made of pink tape atop it. It was clear by the way he was swinging his sword at the sagebrush that surrounded him, the boy was fighting a bloody battle in which he was defending his “castle” from at least 100 men. Every once in a while, the boy would shove the stick under his own arm and fall to the ground as if one of his enemies had just killed him with their sword.
As I watched the boy, a smile crept across my Grinch face. I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood when Wade could be found, rain or shine, any day of the week, using a stick as a gun or a sword or playing a baseball game with an imaginary team.
I learned at an early age it was a lot of fun to abandon my serious side that saw the world for what it really was and join my best friend outside in his imaginary world where the bad guys couldn’t really kill you and anything was possible. We had forts in the hay stack, spaceships in old horse mangers, battlefields in the weeds and entire cities made of mud. Though I was a pretty serious child, I figured out it was OK to let go of that attitude sometimes and just enjoy life.
Watching the boy playing without a care in the world this morning made me reevaluate my own attitude, and I think maybe, just maybe, my Grinch heart grew at least half a size today. Maybe I’ll shut off the news and see if my brother wants to go hunt some rabbits.
Jessica Carner is a reporter at the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.