May 11, 2017 by Gregory Josephs
Clarity Beyond the Rose Colored Glasses
Everyone has that friend who is positive to a fault. You know the one I’m talking about; the one who won’t just let you vent without pointing out all the silver linings in your thunder clouds. Everything is always going to get better. Hell, it’s not even that bad right now. Some days the boundless optimism is helpful, and other times you want to rip those horrible pink tinted glasses right off his face and tell him “No! It really is that bad! Why won’t you let me wallow in my own misery?”
I’ve got a confession. I am that friend, and I’m sorry. . . kind of. The thing is, as someone who has built much of his life outlook around self-love, focusing on solutions instead of problems, and always finding the positive, it’s really hard to turn it off.
But once in a while the universe offers me a gentle reminder:
When you only look at the world in monochrome, you’re missing all the true and vibrant colors. Sometimes, for a little while, it’s best to take the rose colored glasses off.
I’ve needed to take my bike in to the shop for a while now. Unless it’s raining or the temperature at night is going to be below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, I ride it to and from work every day. That’s sixteen miles daily, up to five times a week. I probably manage to ride upwards of thirty weeks a year, so conservatively I pedal about 2000 miles per trip around the sun.
I’m no novice at bike maintenance—I can oil a chain, adjust my brakes, change a tube in the tire—but I depend on this vehicle, and once a year it’s worth taking it to the professionals to get a real work-up done. After dragging my feet for a few weeks and noticing the bike’s sub-par performance, I finally went to the local shop yesterday on my way in to work.
When I pick it up today it’s basically going to be a whole new bike. I needed new brake pads, and a back tire, a new chain and cassette. Suffice it to say I was a little floored; it’s a huge expense I wasn’t expecting. It won’t break the bank but, well, I didn’t see it coming.
As I walked slowly out of the bike shop and across the street to the bus stop, I still had my rose colored glasses on. Okay, big bill, but now I’m going to have a much more efficient, safer bike, and the peace of mind that comes with, right? I looked at my watch. Over an hour to get to work. Today was going to be alright.
And I waited and waited. I live about four miles beyond the end of the subway system in Boston. In the 80’s, the last time my line of the subway was extended, it was supposed to go all the way to where I currently live. However, a group of closed-minded activists stopped the extension short because they were afraid the train would bring all sorts of riffraff to their pristine town alongside the culture, higher property values, and easy commutes. The compromise was getting a bus line with busses every eight to twelve minutes. A great idea in theory. . .
I waited twenty-seven minutes, bike helmet in hand, looking frantically at my watch. When the bus finally arrived, I breathed a sigh of relief. I could still make it to work on time, and the bus was virtually empty. I sat down in my usual seat, the bus went one stop, and then. . .
A middle aged man with a very distinctive odor climbed happily on through the front door, walked right up and sat in the seat directly next to me, blocking me in. As he spread his knees apart, forcing me farther into a corner, he smiled at me and said “This is my very favorite seat. I just love sitting here. Hey, do you know about those new parking meters?”
I threw quite the little tantrum in my head. Suffice it to say, I was seeing red, and it had nothing to do with the figurative pink lenses I was still somehow wearing. The bus went on, I turned up the music through my earbuds, and cringed a little as the bus pulled over at every single one of the twenty-seven stops between the bike shop and the train station.Then the train took forever to arrive. Once I was on, it did that horrible thing where it stopped inexplicably for minutes in the middle of the tunnel. Though I love public transportation, sometimes it brings me dangerously close to panic attacks. I finally arrived at my station, flew up the stair into the daylight and called my husband.
He barely answered the phone before I launched into my barrage of complaints and frustrations. I realized suddenly that I was tired and stressed—I’ve been happily working myself to the bone—and between the bike and the terrible commute and the fact that I was speeding down the sidewalk with five minutes left to get to work on time, I was overwhelmed. My voice cracked and my eyes were wet and. . . what the hell?
Through my rose-colored glasses none of this would have been a big deal, but I’d lost them somewhere along the way, and the world was so vibrant and full of color it took my breath away. I felt in every fiber of myself that the world sucked right now, and yet somehow the green of the new leaves and the blue of the sky seemed brighter than I’ve seen them in a while.
Charmed life, right? I recovered quickly and remembered that my minor grievances today didn’t mean much. People have real problems. And yet, even the minor hiccup in my undaunted positivity gave me some clarity for what would come next.
A Quiet Compassion
In the short twenty-odd hours since my nasty commute a couple of things have happened. Late last night I got in touch with a friend who days ago suffered the loss of an ex she was still very much in love with. I’ll not share her story as that would be an abuse of my blogging powers, but I was compelled to reach out to her.
When I was nineteen I lost someone very close to me without warning. It was devastating. It changed my entire life, and in large part inspired the book I’m self-publishing this summer. Seeing the parallels in my friend’s situation, how could I not reach out and offer her support. She graciously responded and, idiot me, the first thing I tried to do was reassure her that all this pain was only temporary.
I remember people telling me that. I remember how those words turned my stomach and made me want to scream. Of course I knew, even when it was all so fresh, that it was going to get better. That didn’t help in the moment though. I needed to be sad and angry. I needed to grieve.
And that is what my friend needs now. I realized the error of my ways, backed up, and just offered her my ear. I’m going to check in again in a couple of days. Whatever she wants to talk about, she can talk about. I’ll listen. If she wants my rosy outlook, she’ll ask for it.
Then this morning our very close friends had to put down a beloved pet. It’s been a while coming, and I think they were prepared, but that doesn’t make it any easier. My boundless optimism is here if they need it, but I think at the moment my quiet compassion will go a lot farther.
Yesterday I might not have had the same discretion.
Living to the Point of TearsAlbert Camus famously said “Live to the point of tears.” I forget sometimes, when things are going so well, that this is also a part of my personal mantra. The emotional peaks and bottomless canyons of life are the moments we remember most—the times when we are so happy or so sad; the deviations from the base-line.
I forget, for the sake of my monochromatic glasses, that to feel is human, there is beauty in sadness as in joy, and that every experience should be savored.
My little breakdown yesterday does not compare in any way to the loss of a person or a pet, but it was a gentle reminder to sometimes seek the clarity of a different perspective.
So to those of you feeling something other than happy today, feel free to stop by for a cup of positivity if you’d like it. Or just stop by for some quiet compassion. I’ve got both on tap, and you’re welcome to them.
As always, your comments are encouraged and appreciated below.
Thanks for reading,