January 24, 2014: Life is Beautiful

This blog has been sitting in my mind for some time. During my most thoughtful times (i.e. walking the dog and long bike rides), I have pondered this specific blog title and its intertwining relationships into my own personal life.

This week I was reminded of this theme once again. Amid some mild oppression from a myriad of outside forces, I did what I typically do in these situations. I thought of the words of a dear friend. Life is beautiful.

No better way to avoid the bad things in life than to focus on all things good. Wallowing in negativity is not my gig. So tonight I will transfer my recurring thoughts from mind to blog.

Preparing for my blog post, I scoured my computer picture files with the goal of finding a recent picture of my boys. In my mind's eye, I pictured them smiling; enjoying life. There were many to choose from; football games, family trips, rough-housing in the backyard. Instead I kept coming back to the picture above. A forgotten picture of me.

I am unsure who took this or the details of the moment. But what caught my eye was my disheveled physical appearance complimented by an apparent look of happiness. My self-hemmed dress was unintentionally hiked. My hair, a mess. And my makeup? Vanished with the close of the day. But the smile is apparent. Happiness.

I tend to see the beauty in life and in people and am told I carry the dominant trait of positivity. Strengthfinder's personality assessment validates this by placing Positivity in my "Top Five".

Sometimes I take a step back, acknowledging my tendency to see the cup as only half full while wondering if this perceived strength is really a weakness. Do I sugar-coat too much? Not seeing things for what they are? My mom has coined me a "Polly Anna". Self-doubt ensues.

Post-divorce, I wondered if my positivity was, in fact, our personal demise. Nonacceptance of the negative spiral taking place was instead sugar-coated from reality. But life was raw and I was lost in the bubble of confusion. I just wanted to fix things and for everyone to be happy. Positivity.

Shortly after our divorce, Grant’s cat went missing. He adored his pet kitten, Rambo. They slept together each night and played together by day. Alarmed by Rambo’s MIA status, Grant and I spent a day hanging up signs throughout the neighborhood with pictures of Rambo and enticements of a reward if found. Neighbors were interviewed and the Humane Society called. No Rambo.

The first night that Grant went to bed alone in Rambo’s absence, he cried his eyes out; worried about his furry companion. The next day, while Grant was at school, I received a call. The caller saw our signs in the neighborhood and also saw the deceased remnants of Rambo sprawled on the neighboring 168th Street.

When Grant arrived home from school, he anxiously asked if I had heard anything on Rambo. I told him “no”.

After Day Three of no Rambo, I convinced Grant that his kitty had wandered into the home of a sweet old lady and was spending his days lying on her lap by the fire. I convinced Grant that in all actuality we were doing a favor to a lonely elderly lady. Rambo was fine.

Proud of my positivity spin, I shared this story with Garrett. But I didn’t get the response I had expected.

“Sandy, you can’t lie to Grant. He needs to know the truth. You shouldn't shield him from adversity. This is life. People and animals will die. Not everything has a happy ending.”

Not the reinforcement I was looking for. I reasoned with Garrett that Grant couldn’t take the truth. With the divorce and loss of his parents as a unit, Grant didn’t need any more sadness in his life. He couldn’t take it. I really thought I was doing the right thing with the old lady story.

Garrett didn’t enable me. I eventually told Grant the truth. It took everything in me, but it was the right thing to do. He cried, but accepted the reality of his pet’s death. I think prior to my words of truth, Grant actually knew in his heart that no old lady really existed. And then we woke up the next morning and we moved on.

In the heat of my divorce, I was given the Godwink of an amazing counselor. One day I was updating him on the status of my boys; emphasizing all things positive and my efforts at keeping their lives normal and happy. This was an ongoing theme in our sessions despite the problems erupting between their dad and me.

After my lively and positive update, my counselor paused and asked a question.

“Have you ever watched the movie, Life is Beautiful?”

I hadn't a clue what he was referring to.

“Watch it this weekend,” he told me. Homework. 

Confused, I did just that. I rented the movie and was surprised to find it an Oscar-winning foreign film. The entire movie was in subtitles.

At the end I cried. I understood why my counselor wanted me to watch it and I understood how it applied to me, but I did know how to interpret whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.

The movie is about a father and son who are imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. The father shielded his son from the horrors of their life by filling their days with positivity and convincing his young son that they are having an adventure. The small boy believed his stories and followed his upbeat lead. The boy survived unscathed. A gift from his father.

When I asked my counselor at my next session why he wanted me to watch the movie, he turned it back to me. The conclusion I made that day and the conclusion I make now, fast-forward five years, is that positivity and creating a happy world albeit dark times is a good thing. But like poor Rambo, we need to accept reality while choosing happiness.

All that being said, I am thankful for a counselor pointing out that life is indeed beautiful. I continue to defer to his great advice in my daily life. And as far as positivity being an overall good or bad trait, I will just keep deferring to the photos showing the faces of those I love. This is my best barometer.



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