Bonnie Brown: Regaining Optimism in a Troubled World

“Dance for Joy” is a painting by Ira Mitchell-Kirk.

Perhaps it’s the cold weather and fewer daylight hours, or maybe it’s a stage of my life, but I’m feeling a bit down. I wonder if maybe I am more focused on sad things these days. I wonder if maybe it’s just me who seems to remember the sad things in life more so than the happy ones. Just think about it: When we’re born, we cry. Our early memories are of painful experiences, more so than happy ones. Again, maybe it’s just me, and maybe it’s just this phase of my life. My earliest memory of “pain” was when a chicken pecked me on the finger. To this day, I have a mild dislike of chickens unless they happen to be fried or grilled and come to me on a bun or atop a salad. 

I think it’s a universal truth that we remember when our very best friend (maybe in kindergarten or first grade) hurt our feelings over something that we can’t even recall now.  Maybe it had something to do with crayons. I remember feeling so betrayed and hurt and revengeful. Later on, I remember being embarrassed by my teacher in second grade because I answered a question incorrectly. I was adamant that “people” couldn’t have an “O” in the spelling.

Then came junior high (now referred to as middle school), and we all know how angst-filled those years were. My nose grew faster than the rest of my face, and to add to this, it came with a hump. Never mind that it’s a family trait. It just wasn’t fair, and it caused me great distress.

Then there was high school and the anguish and agony that brings. I was popular enough but wasn’t always the hip, trendy girl. My clothes were nice but weren’t the most stylish.   Now, the nose had developed freckles and caused me mortification.

In later years, I eventually found my identity and my voice. I also found that I was smart enough to have a decent career and lucky enough to marry an amazing man and have two wonderful sons. And my remarkable husband liked my nose. And now I do too.

I have experienced the loss of my parents and miss them so much. I remember so much about them, and yet I have forgotten some things too. I so wish I could recall some of the conversations wherein they imparted some piece of information or advice that I failed to absorb and now can’t remember.

However, here lately, I am so sad because I have lost several good friends and good friends’ spouses whose end came too soon. They had things left to do. They were not just good people—they were great people who left us behind to mourn and deal with their absence. The pain is unspeakable. There is little consolation for my friends’ family members. I wish I could do or say something truly comforting and noteworthy, but, alas, I seem unable to do so.

Our world seems to be troubled—negative news, fake news, sad news. There are natural disasters—hurricanes, floods, fires, mudslides—with so much suffering. How do you process this? We hardly recover from one event before there is another event, even more dire than the previous one. How do we cope?

It’s especially difficult to see examples of pure malice: people robbing the elderly, taking advantage of the vulnerable, discrimination, injustice, and more. Are people more evil than good?

We are a country with so many resources, things we take for granted. And yet, someone in neighboring Memphis died a few nights ago from exposure. Someone who didn’t have the comfort of a warm bed or a caring family.

Maybe because it’s the time of the year when our expectations are higher that we are more aware when bad things happen. Or, again, maybe it’s the time in my life.

I don’t make resolutions for the New Year, but I have consciously and very intentionally decided to be more mindful of the happiness that surrounds me. While in the past I seemed to be more able to recall painful experiences, I have been blessed with a loving family, a comfortable home, wonderful friends and optimism that there are many more reasons to celebrate.

Yes, I will acknowledge the sad events that are part of our lives—health issues, mortality, unfair situations, inequalities, disappointments, and many other challenges. But I will try very hard to regain my optimism and celebrate the good times. I have the power within me to face difficult times with hopefulness and determination to make things better when I can. I must remember this!

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.