A few weeks ago, I had dinner with my boss. She had just returned from receiving cancer treatment in Germany for several tumors and a Stage Four condition; her prognosis, as of now, is positive. She is optimistic about her chances for continued survival.
Not surprisingly, my boss had changed from the presence of cancer. Gone was the slightly vulgar, suspicious personality who didn't look too favorably on gay marriage or Islam. In her place was someone grateful to be alive, who cherished her friendship with a Pakistani doctor, and more than willing to retract prior offensive statements she'd casually thrown like white rice at weddings.
Of course, I was blown away; I've known my boss for over four years, and she usually isn't beatific. Especially towards sloppy bartenders and lousy customers. But, what amazed me most wasn't her radical attitude change towards Muslims. No.
My awe lay in the fact that she was willing to thank her cancer. She was incredibly gracious about the disease that had called for chemotherapy treatments and caused the loss of her hair; it had shown her a purpose past running her business, one that called for her to adopt an unfailingly positive attitude. She was confident, secure as a shaman in her perspective.
"I tell the cancer, 'You have served your purpose. And it's time for you to go.' That's how I do it," she said as I sat speechless. "And if I'm negative, it doesn't help."
"No, it doesn't," I repeated, thinking that if I were stricken with cancer, I would want nothing more than to curl up in a fetal ball with twelve prescriptions at my disposal.
After dinner, I continued to feel amazed at my boss, and realized I could afford to sprinkle a little bit of her adamantly positive pixie dust in my own life. I thanked my lucky stars then (and now) that cancer in my own body didn't prompt me to reflect. But, even without the disease, I've noticed that I've got a few negative habits of my own, a few things that can use a little tweaking for the sake of my general stress levels- and a reduced chance of hanging out in Hell's VIP section.
Now, my moral character isn't repugnant to the point where I should go hang out in an ashram in Tibet to cleanse my soul. And, I'm not a white-collar thief, drug-dealing peddler, pimp, or a gold-digger Kanye would pitch a fit over. But, I am a deliberate bitch on occasion; at those times, I can afford to be kinder, gentler, and a lot less sharp in my words.
So, I've embarked on a conscientious effort to be a more positive person. Some parts of adding brighter energy to my life is easy; complimenting and conveying good to my friends, coworkers, and customers is generally not difficult, especially when I know I'm doing so from a genuine place.
That said, am I finding it completely easy to be a little more beatific? Oh hell, NO. I've hit a few roadblocks, instinctive obstacles that jerk up like knee reflexes.
First, I keep score. Like royal bodyguards who know every assassination attempt on their queen's life, I remember arguments that went down between friends or beaus, or nights when a coworker and I both had PMS at the same time and probably shouldn't have been in physical proximity. I don't bear grudges that'll turn me into a Countess of Monte Cristo. But, sometimes I catch myself thinking, "If such-and-such happens again, I'll kick their ass."
Second, I can snark, and snark well for money. I'm not unique in being able to mock people- these days, everyone can produce pretty, witty sound bites that sound camera-ready. What sets me apart is that I can use that talent to entertain my customers and earn a little extra dough in the process. I've made repeated tips by making fun of Anna Nicole Smith's drug-fucked TrimSpa ads, saying that the obese person in the room ate an entire skinny person's family, and by repeating an anecdote where I once told my little sister (in retaliation, I swear) that at least I wasn't called the boobless wonder. (She said I had a fat ass.)
Third, I live in New York. It's one of the most beautiful and powerful cities in the world, but it's also got a massive quantity of assholes, truly bitchy bitches, and lousy drivers. Thanks to six years of New York living, I've endured a colossal amount of rudeness directly proportional to its fabulous qualities, and more mishaps I can imagine. If I had a dollar for every single time I've nearly been run over by a car in a crosswalk, collided into, or exchanged a dirty look with a complete stranger, I'd have enough for a couple months' worth of rent money with change.
Additionally, if I made $20 for every time I've dealt with the frequent-flyer dingbats in my life- the local neurotic Boy Whiner, the preachy vegan princess who refused to wear deodorant, or the world's worst rapper spitting out pedestrian "bat, cat, hat" rhymes at coked-up speeds- I could indulge on sushi for a whole month. But, as I don't make any money from any of the aforementioned, I just end up wanting to kill them.
Which, of course, is super helpful.
So, given the more obdurate parts of my personality and day-to-day life in New York, I'm finding it difficult to entirely adopt the saintlike gratitude my boss displayed at dinner. At this point, I am especially aware of how much easier it is to snark, snap, or mock; I can't help grinning when I think about threatening the vegan with a burger. I also wonder if the only way to remotely reach a high level of actual goodness and grace is to withdraw from the world as a monk or a nun. But, I don't want to give up.
In spite of the lack of total success happening in my personal quest for positivity (and possible backup plan of sequestering myself away on a Thai beach), I plan to continue working on adding better mojo to my life. I'll keep working on gaining a more positive signature, one that stems from a higher consciousness. I can be the person who knows that the extra joke is unnecessary, someone who is well-aware of the difference between malice and mischief.
After all, even with living in New York, I can always afford to be a little more helpful.
An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.
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7.20.09 @ 8:33a
Sorry to be so late but I'm way behind with my email. I salute you. I admire you. I hold you up as a role model. Don't let the the dash for perfection blind you to the good.
I'd be interested in knowing why your boss went all the way to Germany for cancer treatment.
Keep you the good work. I've found that I'll never be perfect, but if I can audit a day in which I've done more good than bad, I think I'm ahead of the game.
7.27.09 @ 3:10p
Hi Sandra! Sorry for getting back to you late as well.
My boss opted for alternate treatment after two rounds of chemotherapy. She wasn't happy with the effects on her body, and learned of a doctor in Rome who treated her tumors with (I believe) saline-based therapy. After several weeks in Rome, she came back to the US, and then went to Germany for another round of similar treatment in a clinic. In her opinion, US cancer treatment lags behind Europe's, and is less physically taxing.
And nope, not letting the dash for better mojo blind me to the good. I still swear if I stub a toe. I just try not to let the negative affect me to the point of forgetting the positive things I've got going on.
8.1.09 @ 8:49a
Thanks, Alex. It's interesting to note your boss's opinions about cancer treatment. I wonder if "health care reform" is going to change anything in that regard.
8.4.09 @ 8:11p
I'm not sure I agree with you on this one Lex. I do believe it doesn't hurt to be positive, as life tends to show itself in the colours you cast it in. I also believe that in many instances, you can't polish a turd.
I personally believe that to living happily requires honesty more than positivity, especially when you are looking inward at yourself. I think that when you can honestly evaluate and accept your good and bad traits you become grounded and self aware. I believe that positivity stems from this. Knowing what personal faults you need to work on and moving towards that goal is a positive act in itself.
But then again, I would think that... ;-)
As far as vegans go, if you have a medical condition that you can't eat meat and dairy, no problem. If you are doing it for 'moral' or 'ethical' reasons, I think you are a pathetic, sanctimonious loser. People like that should have a good look at the way they live the rest of their lives and what they value, and then reassess how moral they really think they are.
And if it's wrong to eat animals, why are they made out of meat?
As far as Hell's VIP section, I'm on the list....if you change your mind, I can probably get you in cos I know the guy on the door. ;-)