Top of Piedmont: To Watch, Listen and Ponder — Then Write!

January 2014Monthly Archives


Morning sun devil
White lake strokes cerulean sky
Chickadee in birch

The Grump

As a child, I had a great aunt who called me “Douglie.” I have never been enthusiastic about my name so the elaboration was unwelcomed. Early names tend to be terms of endearment. Others have to do with the incidents and accidents of fate. Another time some “friends” added “Pooh” to Dougie – wonderful! It even ended up on an apron I used for barbecuing, a gift from a friend. Occasionally someone looks at me as I am enveloped in a cloud of smoke and inquires, “Ah, what are we having tonight?” There was even a recent event where my partner of 40 years let slip “Poopsie”. Yep, other members of the couples fishing party let fly with, “Oh Poopsie. Would you please pass the bait?” or “Say Poopsie, let’s go try that spot over there.” Lately with the press of life events, I am now blessed with – – “Grumpy”.

Let no aspersions be cast, on one of the dwarves, being grumpy flows from the view you take of life events. Thinking impacts feeling and feeling speaks in how we act.

I was fortunate enough a few months ago to see Garrsion Keillor at the “World Theatre” in St. Paul. Part of Garrison’s monologue that show dealt with the impact of phrases like “pretty good” and “not bad”. These expressions articulate a lack of commitment to feeling much of anything. Thus a beautiful northern Minnesota morning with sun igniting hoarfrost on every tree into shimmering jewels becomes a “pretty good” morning. Likewise, a head-snapping brunette walking by on the street is “not bad”. We can find doom, gloom and muted enthusiasm for life’s events at every corner if we think that way.

Being grumpy comes from unfulfilled expectations. Let’s take kids for instance. In a perfect world kids always pick up their rooms and make their beds. They wouldn’t have to be periodically assailed about the virtue of cleanliness and order – – an adult requirement. There would be no drill sergeant then. On the other hand, whose need is this anyway?

Awhile back, I wrote about the car from hell. It’s getting old and needs fixing – frequently. That costs money, so I grump, to my secretary, to my business partner, to my wife, and to Brian at the gas station. I can’t do anything about it, but I can complain.

The weather is always something we can grumble about. Usually it’s cold, or maybe it’s too humid or too cloudy or if it’s too warm, the snow will be ruined if you’re a skier. If the wind is blowing too hard you can’t even run, sail or canoe!

Then there’s the credit card and money crunch. No matter how much you make, there’s never enough. Playing catch-up seems to be the rule. “Your reach should exceed your grasp.” I know the thought is meant for something else other than VISA or MasterCard, but inevitably the impulse purchase and “Wouldn’t that be nice etc., etc.” – leads to cursing and disgust at a lack of self-discipline at least once a month.

Taking a sour view grows out of a feeling of powerlessness. It is the half glass syndrome. I can either view the glass I have just taken a drink from as being half-empty or half full, with more to savor. Taking an event and turning it 180 degrees frequently gives it a different meaning. Failed expectations fade, possibilities emerge and being powerless in front of life’s events takes on a different color.

When I get grumpy, I retreat to the “Serenity Prayer” by Rheinhold Niebuhr , the Protestant theologian. It goes like this:

God, grant me the
Serenity to accept things
I cannot change:
Courage to change the things I can: and
Wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time:
Enjoying one moment at a time:
Accepting hardship
As the pathway to peace.


Thin grey specters march
Sweep over glass-flat lake
Silver strands ascend


I have been rereading an old counter-culture classic, Demian by Herman Hesse. I remember wading through it in a Twentieth Century Lit class in the mid-60s. It is a story about a young man’s journey of self-discovery and his relationship with a person who focuses his life along the way. The book uses light and dark imagery in describing one world of security and certainty and another universe of dissipation and chaos.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Advent, the season of light, reaches its culmination in the celebration of Christmas. It is a season of hope and certainty. But life is interwoven with both light and dark, good and evil, security and chaos.

Christmas is the scent of a freshly cut spruce carried over the shoulder and set in a wooden stand with snow dripping on a hardwood floor. It is the crunch, crunch and squeak of buckle boots on snow at five degrees on the way to midnight mass. It is also seeing your breath in your bedroom as you struggle trying to decide whether you want to risk a brief chill while you throw on a robe and slippers and race to the living room where presents are spread under a tree.

The more obvious aspects of Christmas are the commercial ones, distorting for a time those images that make it part of the realm of light. There is the feast after church services, and true to melting-pot America, Lute Fisk and lefse. I still marvel at my Polish father’s capacity for the delicacy.

Who can forget Santa Claus actually coming to the door this year, handing out presents rather than rushing to a frosty window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Reindeer? We always wondered why the sack looked like one of our bed sheets.

As time passes, the realm of light changes. Finding out that the rotund visitor is a generous neighbor is a setback. Financial limitations imposed by the growing demands of children make the presents more practical: a shirt, a pair of pants, instead of a truck or new doll. The strain of family reunion at Holiday times occasionally gives indications that not all is warm and wonderful. And as religion serves, it can also constrain, binding us to a limited perspective rather than freeing us to see the world in different ways.

We come to discover that the realm of darkness tempers the world of light. It is spoken in colors of gray, ambiguous and fuzzy. The realm of light is all-encompassing – I am taken care of. The world of darkness teaches us I must take care of myself. As myths tumble, a colder, fresher wind begins to blow toward us. The pain of death, loss of friendship and overtaxed marriages makes us value those times when there is clarity.

Moments of light and dark times really are different sides of the same coin. If we didn’t have both, we would end up stuck in a reality that has little basis in fact. Life is neither good nor bad – it is.

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