I’m still shocked at how much simple habits of gratitude are turning my life upside down. Before taking on the Happy LIFE, I don’t think I was particularly aware, extravert that I am, of my internal dialog. I sure didn’t notice how negative – and how completely automatic – it can be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if self-consciousness were the same thing as self-awareness? If it were, I believe I might be sufficiently enlightened to ascend bodily into eternity. As it is, I’m just embarrassed a lot.
Speaking of embarrassment, there’s the matter of self-disclosure, otherwise known as throwing your own self under the bus. So, speaking to you from the underbelly of a Greyhound, I’m disclosing that I just caught myself in an amazingly negative thought process. I was speaking with the customer service department of the Reader’s Digest, to which my mother has a lifetime subscription. I called at a time of day that I assumed, right off the bat, would have a negative outcome. I was so sure that that I would not be able to speak with a real human that I was shocked spitless when a pleasant-sounding young woman named Courtney answered the phone on the third ring.
Then, she asked me for my account number.
“Oh, great, I got someone on the phone but now it’s going to fall apart,” I automatically and immediately told myself despite the pleasant surprise of a live person that I’d experienced just seconds before.
“I don’t have the number,” I told Courtney, “because my mom hasn’t been getting the magazine at her new place and I don’t have any old issues on hand at my place.”
“No problem,” said Courtney. “What’s her name?”
No problem? Well, this response certainly didn’t fit my negative expectations. I told Courtney Mama’s name and she looked it up.
“I’m sorry. I don’t find that name.”
A little spark of fear had flashed earlier and was going off again. Courtney, still trying to be helpful, says, “What other name could it be under?”
“None, really,” I said, and I was thinking to myself, Mama subscribed to that magazine when she went to work at seventeen and I know she received it under her married name my whole life, in excess of fifty years. It was starting to seem really weird at that point. I felt a little gust of worry, fanning another little spark of fear catch the tinder of doubt and begin to burn. What if Mama’s been targeted for some sort of identity theft? What if her accounts have been changed to some other address?
Suffice it to say that, in the end, it wasn’t a problem with her account. And, please allow me to reiterate that, prior to the Happy LIFE, I truly don’t think I would have been aware of all the dire things I was speculating about what could have gone wrong just because my mother wasn’t receiving a magazine. I suppose I could choose to be comforted by the fact this negative thought process is so common it has a name. I was “catastrophizing.” I was stringing together every worst-case scenario I could think of and, because I’m somewhat creative, I could think of a lot of catastrophes that an AWOL magazine could portend.
I’m grateful that I revisited my catastrophizing in writing, too, because it took me along another path where much sweeter thoughts have occurred to me. I’ve thought about how the Reader’s Digest has followed Mama and, in a way, served as a chronicle of her admirable passage through the world, from dirt farm to comfortable retirement. It has also served as the source of her (and my own) vocabulary; it has helped shape her worldview; it has served as an object lesson and example of a world where we pay increasingly more for goods and services that offer increasingly less value, where almost everything in our lives is “commoditized” and we can’t be sure what to believe and who’s selling what.
I know that a some intellectual or “now a go go” contemporary types find magazines like Reader’s Digest to be laughable artifacts of a time that was naïve at best and socially repressive at worst. Still, for me, it will always serve as a symbol of a generation that considered the greater good, who thought of others before themselves, and knew what it meant to sacrifice and delay gratification for future rewards. I appreciate that, these days, we have a more acceptable outlook on many things that would have been taboo in the Reader’s Digest of my mother’s heyday and my own childhood. I want to believe that it – and other chronicles of my mother’s generation – will always carry their spirit and provide a voice of reason and decency in a word that increasingly lacks both.