(EDITORS NOTE–I don’t know about you, but I miss Marcos Alvira’s monthly welcome columns. There was never, ever any doubt that he put considerable thought into his pieces. I always assumed…and am pretty sure I was right in my assumption…that Marcos approached his Second Sunday Welcome column the same way he approached creating the English class lesson plans for his students, which is to say that he was stubbornly determined that in both instances his audience would come away with something worth learning, or pondering, or a tool for sorting out the complexities of life. Our requirements for serving as a Welcome columnist are, I hope you can tell, rigorous, but there’s nothing in the fine print about “inspiring your readers.” For Marcos Alvira, that was just icing on the cake. Here’s one of our boy’s last columns before retiring in 2015. Enjoy. RC)
Some columns are simply difficult to conjure. As I write, it’s January 1 and and my wife and I have just finished a 24 hour celebration of the New Year and my her birthday with some close friends and family. By the time you read this, my we will have spent three days in San Francisco to continue the celebration with more friends and family. In the course of all the revelry, I’ve made a resolution for this new year: I will attempt to look at everything in the most positive light possible.
I am put to the test on the first day of 2015. Sometimes writing a column can feel a bit like homework, including all the procrastinations like eating an extra snack, paying the bills, and changing the oil about 1,000 miles earlier than necessary. After 24 hours of almost no sleep, spirits, and delectable feasting, my system is slowed to a sluggish crawl and and my creativity as palatable as a bowl of cold, plain grits. In the spirit of my recent resolution, I consider this deplorable state to simply be conditioning for the true test of one’s constitution, the Great 48 in Bakersfield, the most stupendous jam west of the Mississippi January 8-11. [What’s that you say? The 8 through the 11 is four days? Ya…it’s so much much that we needed another day to fit it all in.]
I should have simply bought a membership to a gym as a resolution. I may have a better shot of actually keeping fit than I do at seeing things in a brighter light. My family is rife with smart alecks and cynics, and as the current patriarch of the clan, I wear my mantle of wise guy and trenchancy seriously. These preceding two years, however, has seen the passing of some fine friends, and most ironically, this has forced me to look at my own sardonic temperament with a great deal of cynicism. In contrast to my own acerbic character, James Stewart plays an optimistic role in one of my all time favorite films, the 1950, Harvey. This character is the model upon which I will attwmpt to rebuold my surly character. Stewart portrays the imperturbably affable Elwood P. Dowd whose constant companion is Harvey, a 6’ 3.5’’ invisible pooka rabbit. Elwood explain his perpetual sanguineness:
“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”
It was in this movie that the mild mannered, stuttering persona of Jimmy Stewart was born. My wrinkled forehead, hunched, rounded shoulders, and propensity to speak exuberantly preclude anyone from ever confusing me with Jimmy’s erstwhile character; furthermore 5’8 frame would never be confused for Stewarts own 6’3”. Nonetheless, In my quest to be positive, there are small behaviors I could adopt that are exhibited by Elwood P. Dowd.
1) He was kind—heartfelt compliments flowed naturally.
2) He listened with compassion.
3) He exercised humility—he welcomed those with less resources into his life and treated them as genuine equals.
4) He felt the joy in all things—he was grateful to meet a new companion or share a drink with a stranger.
5) He always gave the benefit of the doubt—when confronted with ill-will, he accounted it to unintentional accidents
Throughout the movies plot twists, Elwood refuses to see anything but the best of people and of his situation. Of course, life is not a movie, and sometimes we are wise to exercise a little skepticism, but overall Elwood’s approach might do one—or last me— well to remember. Films of that era did not often have a soundtrack as we know them today. If the movie were to be scored nowadays, we’d just might see Elwood enter his favorite tavern, Reilly’s, and in the background, hear the jukebox playing the old Carter song, “Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side, keep on the sunny side of life.”