A faltering economy. The threat of war. Money for the bills and how to schedule in everything in a day while extra hours are spent in traffic. There’s plenty to worry about — plenty of negativity to focus on.
Yet some people saunter gracefully through life with hardly a sign of worry. They live in the moment, not dwelling on past or future woes, deal with problems head on then cross them off the list. Those same people laugh a sincere, belly laugh when something strikes them funny. Their smiles are contagious. They are the people who light up an otherwise average day.
One of those otherwise average days was right around the anniversary of September 11, when thoughts could easily drift to such vexations as terrorist attacks and acts of war. After September 11, 2001, some people surely drifted toward a tendency to worry, be suspicious of others, and dwell on the dark side of humankind.
Others, such as my husband, refuse to let the horrible people affect his expectations of all people.
On this average Sunday we were driving on a country road after brewing beer at his brother’s house. We did not cloud up a good day with talk of terror and turmoil. By the time we were halfway home, I was hungry, tired and growing impatient. I am pregnant, and had downed a large glass of water around the time we’d left for home, so needless to say, I was looking forward to a restroom visit.
About a mile from town, the car started to chug along, as if running out of gas. The gauge said we had over a quarter tank, but it seems the gauge had given out. We came to a stop at the side of the road. This was, ironically, one of the few times I had left home without a cell phone.
My husband calmly got out and started into a walk to town while I buckled down for what I figured would be a 20 to 30 minute wait.
I got out a book and started to read. A few minutes later I looked up from the pages of my book, and saw my husband walking back toward the car, engaged in an animated chat with another man carrying a gas can. The man graciously offered help even though we had no cash with us, and, with a smile, sent us off. My husband made plans to drop off a gallon of gas to pay the man back, and told him “Thanks for your help. You’re what’s right with America.”
I couldn’t stop smiling on the way home. His optimism always makes him see things so clearly. A suspicious person like myself saw a long walk, a sparsely populated road that may contain dangerous people and a broken gas gauge. He didn’t even consider the long road — he saw a country house with a family’s name posted on the door and figured “those are nice folks.” His expectation that people are generally good, helpful and honest proved right again.
Optimism like his is what ties our nation to values of respect, kindness and the rewards that come from living a good life. Acts of terrorism have worked to make people fearful and suspicious — emotions that can be contagious. But acts of kindness and trust can do the same.
Jana Hill is editor of the Mill Creek edition of The Enterprise Newspapers.