As you may recall, I decided that for Lent this year I would "give up" something that was stealthily winding its way into greater prominence in my life. I would "give up" negativity by replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, or at least consciously trying to outnumber the negative ones with an overwhelming flood of the positive.
And then, when I started paying attention, my first discovery was that I was consistently more negative than I realized. This was going to be harder than I thought...
To some extent I think we come pre-programmed with a tendency toward optimism or pessimism. (If you read either of the books I reviewed earlier about Alice Herz-Sommer, you'll learn that she had a twin sister who was just as consistently pessimistic as Alice was consistently optimistic.) But I don't think nature vs. nurture is always necessarily an either-or argument. While there are some things we can't change, we can affect our thinking, our thought processes, our way of looking at the world. Especially for those of us more inclined to be rain-cloud than silver-lining people, it needs to be a conscious choice and effort to seek out the good.
So I looked for inspiration in the wise words of others, by serving others, through mood-lifting music, by accepting my human limitations and increasing my appreciation for our human expansiveness. And when I actively looked for the positive, it was fairly easy to find, and it got easier over the course of the six weeks of Lent as I developed that habit.
Just now, as I was in the middle of working on this post, news came in of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. I handed my youngest the Kindle to distract him and watched the live TV coverage for a little while, refreshing my browser periodically to get the latest online updates, too. As of last night - and it's changing frequently as new information comes in - they are reporting that there were two explosions about 500 feet apart within about 13 seconds of each other near the marathon finish line. Three people are reported dead, including - heartbreakingly - an eight-year-old boy. I can't help but imagine if that were my own almost-eight-year-old boy, and the thought, just the passing thought of it, steals my breath and physically hurts. More than 140 people are being treated at area hospitals for injuries, some of them severe. A day of celebration for a great city and for an incredible feat of human endurance, when thousands of people gathered together to cheer others on and recognize their amazing accomplishment, was appropriated by an evil person, or people, as a tool to inflict as much damage as possible.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” ~Mr. RogersIf you've watched any of the footage of the explosions and their aftermath, you'll have seen there were - and are - so many of the helpers Mr. Rogers mentioned: first responders who bravely ran toward the explosions to do what they could, men in camouflage uniforms (I've seen conflicting reports on whether they are Massachusetts State Police or National Guardsmen) tearing down the barriers along the sidewalk to get to the victims, medical personnel at the hospitals saving lives and treating the wounded, marathon aides directing people out of harm's way and helping them stay calm, people coordinating to get the word out to others across the world that their loved ones in Boston are safe. I read about physicians that were running the marathon or watching the race that immediately started to perform first aid. So many people went to donate blood that the American Red Cross in Boston had to put out an announcement that they had received all the donations they could accept and had reached capacity. There were also dozens, if not hundreds, of security and intelligence workers who diligently searched and swept the area to ensure no further devices would explode. People are opening their homes to those displaced by the evacuations, and businesses are offering their products and services for free to those in need.
Like the sublime Mr. Rogers, I am comforted knowing that there are so many good, caring people in the world. One evil person can cause a great deal of hurt, it's true, and they have, unfortunately, again and again. Sometimes the brutality and inhumanity seem too overwhelming. But good people, lots of good people, did what they could today to show us that evil is an aberration, not the norm. They demonstrated that evil is not our default setting.
My Lent-ish experiment this year is not one that I'm allowing to end on Easter. I will continue to seek out the good, the positive, the virtuous, the praiseworthy, and more importantly, to try to be one of the good ones, one of the helpers, as so many were yesterday in Boston.