Half Full, Half Empty

Listening to NPR recently between my morning mall-walk and the office, there was a feature piece about outlooks on life, posing the question “are you a glass half-full or glass half-empty person?” The guest expert talked about observable and not-as-obvious characteristics of both life perspectives, health effects each tends to produce, career advancement and related earning power, and even life expectancy.

My heritage and DNA definitely slants toward the half-empty. I love my father but, bless his heart, he has lived 90 years looking at the underside of nearly everything. From a hundred paces, he has always been able to spot the risk and danger of nearly any action or situation and act accordingly to mitigate every one of them. Admittedly, such served him -- and us -- well in many cases. For instance, when I was very young, he and I built some fairly sizable pieces of furniture but he never had a power saw because he “couldn’t afford to lose a finger.” We were a single income family of six and he was a jeweler/watch repairman. The loss or even damage to a finger would severely impede his ability to make a living. Good thinking, Dad! And thanks! On cold winter nights, we turned off all the heat in our drafty little country house so awful things wouldn’t happen as we slept warmed by gas heat. He was ingenious at figuring out safeguards against all manner of things that could go wrong and in nearly every case they worked and apparently diverted disaster.

Unfortunately though, his careful, creative caution as a young man has, over the years, gradually morphed into preoccupation with impending doom as an old man to the point that his glass is no longer half empty but done dry. For a couple of years his total focus by day and by night is on what he can no longer do so he misses relative enjoyment of what is still within his capability. To say he is miserable -- sharing it liberally with his four offspring – is an understatement.

As already suggested, this apple did fall far from that tree although through the years there have been a couple occasions when people have called out my default gloomful outlook admonishing me to approach life differently. The one that made so deep an impression that I’ve never forgotten it was my seminary piano teacher – or more accurately, the substitute teacher standing in for my assigned teacher who was on sabbatical that year.

It was the year for my senior recital so the pressure was on both of us. Rhealene the sub was short of stature, a sweet, gentle never-married gal, and a highly competent musician. Not long into the fall semester I must have shown up in her studio “poor me-ing” about something or some such. When I finally wound down, she delivered a most powerful lesson the essence of which was that Christians of all people have the most reason to be positive, that the outlook we project in life presents our witness of faith and that a hope-filled outlook is part of what the Apostle Paul would call our reasonable service. Obviously I’ve never forgotten her powerful words although along with the hymn writer occasionally “days of darkness still come o’er me.”

Luckily, my Mom was also half of my lineage – the brighter half. But even greater than that, after nearly forty-five years of marriage, I seem to have inherited more Honey than DNA from either parent. That gal Honey was at least a half-fuller -- mostly-full may be more accurate. Honey was adaptable to nearly any situation, believed that people and things would be and would get better; she was quick to forgive and offer second chances because she took delight in people.

The NPR expert indicated that for some, becoming a half-full person is a learned attitude, that it has to be practiced until it becomes one’s default. She concluded with two simple things a person can do at the end every day to begin moving toward with a half-full attitude:

1. Write down what you did to be kind, to make life better for someone else. 

2. Make a list of things you have to be grateful for.

Ah, now I better understand why Honey’s glass was so full all the way to the bitter end – she had spent considerable time over sixty-three years making life better for others and was absolutely filled with gratitude even in life’s low places. Hopefully, a good dose of that has rubbed off on me and for that I am grateful.

If on this Ground Hog Day you have already given up on your New Year’s resolution(s) to lose ten pounds and/or get more exercise you might try daily logging your acts of kindness and listing objects of gratitude. I haven’t been actually logging and listing but I am consciously looking for and looking at.

One sure-fire way to improve your outlook is to live into this nearly two hundred year old hymn:

When morning guilds the skies, my heart awaking cries,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer to Jesus I repair;
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

(My favorite stanza)

The night becomes as day when from the heart we say,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
The powers of darkness fear when this sweet song they hear,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

Ye realms of humankind in this your concord find:
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
Let all the earth around ring joyous with the sound:
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

In heaven’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!
Let earth, and sea, and sky from depth to height reply,
     may Jesus Christ be praised!

Words – Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1882

This is one of the hymns I have committed to memory and every time, EVERY time I repeat it, my soul is refreshed and my gaze is lifted.

- Mark