There are times in my life when I have to really dig for a reason to smile.
People who know me know that I’m almost always smiling or laughing about something, and I can usually find a way to put a smile on your face in even the most difficult of circumstances.
In retrospect, I’ve been this way practically my entire life. It was at once a defense mechanism and a way of comforting myself throughout a less-than-ideal childhood, and it’s endured.
But it’s been a real test the last five years or so, starting when my mom’s health problems got really bad. While I was in school in 2002 and I was commuting down to Georgia twice a week to see her in the hospital, I would try to steel myself each time I stepped off the airplane in Atlanta: “This could be the last time that you get to see her, so put the past behind you and try to smile.”
In some respects, life has only gotten harder since then, and there have been times when a smile covered up the pain underneath. But I managed. And I manage now. And I will manage tomorrow.
Still, being so optimistic can be difficult in tough times like these. War, senseless death and a seemingly unending, self-feeding cycle of violence around the world eventually gets to you. The desire to help others, be they the homeless man on the corner or the lost tourists in the Metro, can lead to frustration because, sometimes I feel, “people” aren’t doing enough in the world to make life better for their fellow man.
At the same time, life is suffering – that was Buddha’s sobering and profound message – and as such, in my view, there can be no such thing as the Pollyanna-ish perfection I desire in the world around us. Everyone suffers – that is the fundamental nature of our existence.
But – and it’s a very big ‘but’ – all is not lost. There is a way to affect change in the world around me, and it’s not by passing laws or changing the country’s policies. It’s about changing myself. It’s about living my life the “right” way (sorry – Buddhist pun). And when I feel down, or bombarded with the modern media’s obsession with reporting on gloom and doom, I have to recommit myself to living that path.
And I can probably make a few people laugh along the way, even when things are looking bleak. If you know me well, you’ll know what I mean.