On Being Positive

A Twitter friend took me gently to task for a recent post about being cheerful, reminding me that those afflicted by depression often see in such postings an exhortation to ‘buck up’ or ‘cheer up’, as though it were in their power to do so. Anyone who has had any personal experience of depression, whether in themselves or in another, knows what an impossibility that is. Perhaps, however, there is something to be said for trying to be positive.

For once, the dictionary is not the best place to start one’s reflection. If you look, you’ll find that although the word derives from the Latin ponere, to put, it very soon acquired a more specific meaning than the one I should have liked it to have had (‘constructive’). It is all to do with law and being very definite, allowing no questions. That kind of being positive can be extremely dangerous. Happily, many people do use the word ‘positive’ in my preferred sense of ‘constructive’. So what does it mean to be positive/constructive? What effect does it have, on oneself and on others?

In the first place, I think it means guardianship of one’s thoughts and emotions so that what one says or does is not destructive of anyone or anything. It is very easy to allow a careless word or look to convey negativity. Taking the shine off another’s joy is mean by any standards, but who among us has never done that? The frown, the sarcastic retort, they are all potentially destructive, however much we may want to excuse them to ourselves. I think being positive also means taking notice of what is going on around us. How often do we get to the end of the day and realise that the sins of omission have formed a deep litter all around us, and we never noticed! We simply weren’t available to anyone except ourselves. Sometimes, I regret to say, that unavailability extends to God. The prayers we have said are rather like the tax collector’s in the Gospel: said to ourselves not to Him.

There is another side to being positive which I myself have found helpful although it is almost embarrassingly obvious to mention. It is the recognition that whatever may be the consuming anxiety or irritation of the moment, it is transitory. We are children of eternity, although we sometimes act otherwise. Death, illness, injustice, we must face them all, but if we can pause, even for a moment, and register that what we feel now is not necessarily what we shall feel always, there is room for hope and an acceptance that may transform the situation in which we find ourselves. God wills only our good. Being positive opens us up to that — and to Him.


Tiredness Stills

We all know that tiredness kills. It is a sign we have seen thousands of times as we hurtle along the motorways, and I daresay there can’t be many of us who haven’t said, ‘He/she will be the death of me,’ as we wearily tried to respond to yet another call on our time and attention. But tiredness also stills. It strips away much of the false self we create for ourselves, with its noisiness and endless activity. It leaves us as we are: naked, vulnerable, and possibly much nicer than the public self we present to the world. Tiredness shows what we are made of, and it is, as Hopkins would say, ‘immortal diamond’.

Recently, I have experienced my fair share of tiredness, and for someone who has always been full of energy and ideas (we all have illusions about ourselves. Ed.), it has been quite hard to accept. At first one struggles against it, as though one could, by sheer will-power, overcome the limitations of mind and body. But one soon realises that that is impossible. One must go with the flow; and sometimes one discovers in the very tiredness a purpose and meaning one did not know existed. It is as though tiredness, by showing us how human we are, allows scope for the divine.

I have often wondered what was in Jesus’ mind as he lay with his head on a cushion, asleep in the boat, obviously dead-tired. We all know he awoke to a storm, which must have been nightmarish —except that Jesus stilled the storm with a word. Power flowed out of him, weary as he was, because he put up no barriers to his Father. Maybe there is a lesson there for all of us who feel a bit tired and weary today.