The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


April 19, 1998
2:30 PM

The almost perfect day

Because I know you're so fascinated with my personal life, here's what I did yesterday, an idyllic Spring Saturday in New England:

9:00- 10:00:  Took my son to his little league practice.  He hit an inside the park home run, slightly aided by three throwing errors.

10:00-11:00:  Coached my daughter's Youth Soccer team to a 1-1 tie in their first game, with a surprisingly strong performance (i.e., seldom more than 3 girls kicking at the ball at the same time), and a pleasant minimum of whining, "Can I play forward?!"

11:00-12:00:  Watched the kids play and horse around with other girls and boys in youthfully innocent flirtation.

12:00-1:00:  Drove to scenic Gloucester, MA, stopping on the way to pick up some comic books, then finding a couple of takeout places for lunch.  My wife went for lobster rolls, I chose a double cheeseburger from a little diner nearby.

1:00-2:30:  Ate a picnic lunch in the sunshine by the sea, climbed the rocks, explored the pathways, dozed off lying on the grass while the kids played.

2:30-3:00:  Drove home, listening to the Red Sox game on the radio.

3:00-11:00:  Retched, gagged, vomited, heaved, spewed, choked, moaned, sweat, convulsed, curled up in a fetal position, cursed, heaved some more, ached, lay in painful anguish, rolled around, moaned a lot more, and finally, gradually, recovered in the wee hours.

(There was apparently something in the double cheeseburger that did not agree with me.)

Now I know that you expect me, at this point, to offer some astute observation about the contrast between wonderful family Quality Time and hideous food poisoning agony.  Okay, here it is:

Quality Time is good.  Food poisoning is bad.

You want to know what I really thought about?  Well, there were hundreds of little thoughts racing through my mind in that torture chamber, such as "What the hell is that obnoxious noise outside?" (It sounded as if my neighbor was cleaning his lawn with a high-powered vacuum cleaner, and it went on for 20 minutes.)  At other moments, however, I thought about childbirth.  I thought, "All women are insane," because they voluntarily endure the pain of childbirth (especially those who have more than one child), which by all accounts is a thousand times more arduous than what I was going through.

I also thought about dying, which I don't do very often any more (I went through that angoisse enough as an adolescent, and I'll have enough chances to confront it again in the decades -- I hope -- ahead).  I briefly asked myself what I would "regret" if I were to die now, and interestingly, the answer I came up with was, not appreciating the pleasant, simple, fun times enough.  Like yesterday morning.  Maybe it was God's way of saying "HEY, JERK!  You've got a damn good life here: check it out!  See how beautiful things can be for half a day?  Okay, now let me show you how horrible it could be.  Get the point?  Think you might try to smell a few freakin' roses from now on?!"

It is, truly, just too easy to fall into patterns of irritability, disinterest, muttering resentment, worry, fatigue, depression.  I think our society is in its waning stages, because we have achieved such pinnacles of prosperity (for most) and ease that we find it increasingly difficult to think of anything that we really want.  We define our angst in terms of intangible quantities like money or sex, impressions perpetually reinforced by the media saturation of our lives, as if we could never have enough, even though it's hard to say what particular gratification these things can provide us.  Meanwhile, others driven by still more insatiable greed for things they can't define prey upon our own sense of need, offering us the only true salvation, whether in the form of old-time religion, New Age hokum, Awaken the Giant Within, or Lose 20 Pounds in 10 Days.

And even though I like to think that I make a conscious effort to stay positive, to appreciate the simple essence of life on a daily basis, it's a constant challenge to renew that attitude in the face of so much negativity, so many proclamations that we should be dissatisfied.  Years ago, someone asked me to summarize my philosophy of life in one sentence, and the best I could come up with was: "Optimism is warranted."  Despite the passive voice (maybe it should be "Be Optimistic"), I guess I would still stick with that.  

What's surprising is that there should be any controversy over such a viewpoint.  But there are disturbingly many adherents to the "Life sucks, then you die" school.  To which I say: what's the point?  What do you gain from walking around bitching and moaning all day, or worrying constantly that something will go wrong, or getting teed off at public figures or relatives or neighbors (except those who vacuum their lawns)?  Are you "waiting" for a time when all your troubles will be worked out, and you can finally put your feet up and enjoy life, without complaining any more?  Sure, that time's coming, and your feet will definitely be up: outstretched, actually, along with the rest of your corpse.

Or maybe you'll get lucky, like me.  If you're interested, I can recommend a great Diner in Gloucester, MA, to get you started.


1998 David N. Townsend

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