By Betty Mills
One of the childhood memories that sticks in my head happened in 1936, the dismal pit of the drought and depression in western North Dakota where I grew up. I had gone with my parents to an auction sale at a neighboring farm, and on the way home my mother asked my father, “Didn’t you see the hole in that kettle you bought?”
“Of course I did,” my father replied, “but I don’t think Henry has enough money to get to the west coast as he plans, and he’s too proud to accept charity, so it was the only way I could figure out to help.”
It was a lesson in neighborliness I never forgot, and at the same time for perhaps the first time in my young life, I counted my blessings. We were not leaving our home and going to some strange new place, we didn’t need to sell our belongings; we always had enough money from my point of view as a child. And it was reassuring to discover I had a father with a kind heart, in addition to being the go-to guy if anything in our lives developed a glitch.
Sometimes it can be a real mood changer to consider the blessings in one’s life. There is, of course, no shortage of glitches in this world ranging from monumental to annoying, but making a list of them is hardly going to turn on the sunshine. Actually, too much mental mucking around in the negative side can add to one’s woes. I am reminded of a poem from way-back-when by Ella Wheeler Wilcox entitled “Solitude.”
Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
There’s an additional punch later in the poem which says, “There are none to decline your nectared wine, but alone you must drink life’s gall.”
Drinking gall strikes me as a non-starter so I try to follow her original advice.
As an antidote to gall, it is revealing to make a list of life’s blessings, and I’d start with community. This really is a great place to live including the fact that if there is something really bugging you, there’s an official within reach of your phone. Try that in New York City.
There’s no shortage of things to do depending on your inclination. Last month there were concerts, plays, ball games, even political controversy complete with national coverage, if you were looking for a real-life scenario. And for free you could have gone to my great-granddaughter’s school program complete with music, a stage full of well-behaved children in their Sunday best, and an occasional unrehearsed outbreak of laughter.
Add to that the possibility of sliding through an intersection or getting stuck in a snow bank for that extra dollop of excitement.
Then there’s family and friends. Who could ask for anything more? Although it helps to have your car start in the morning.
The list should also include the opportunity to give someone else a lift. A recent article I read about mental health stated that helping others can be a mood changer, and there are numerous activities always in need of a helping hand.
But the bigger world out there is inescapable. Time magazine recently put out an issue headlined “The Most Influential Photos of All Time.” Included was the horrifying picture of a small boy’s drowned body face down on a Turkish beach. The family had been attempting to escape to Greece, but the boat capsized and the mother and her two little boys perished. The picture was titled: “The photograph that opened borders” because it brought home the plight of the migrants trying to bring their families to a safer place.
It reminded me of a 1937 photograph in Life magazine of an infant splattered with blood, alone and crying in the middle of a rubble-strewn street in Shanghai, victim of the Japanese invasion of China.
Those pictures put a human face on the suffering which goes on in our world and as that ancient English poet John Donne put it, “I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
They also remind me to count my blessings every day for the good life that is mine.
Betty Mills was a weekly political columnist for The Bismarck Tribune for 25 years. Among the many blessings in her life, Betty has four children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.