There is much said today about improving our health by developing habits of optimism, whether facing a difficult medical diagnosis or a pile of dirty laundry. Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, says we should try activities that build joy, gratitude, love, and other positive feelings. We know, however, that more is required than a general wish for good feelings. We need a strong conviction that there is a source of joy, peace, and love upon which we can depend.
Some years ago my son Brian and I agreed to haul some equipment into an isolated Idaho backcountry ranch for a friend. There are no roads into the area, at least none that my truck could negotiate. So Ralph, the young ranch manager, arranged to meet us at road’s end with a small wagon hitched to a pair of mules.
News of a simple act of kindness on a New York subway has gone around the world. A young man, head covered by a hooded sweatshirt, fell asleep on the shoulder of an older passenger. When someone else offered to wake the young rider, the older man quietly said, “He must have had a long day. Let him sleep. We’ve all been there.” Then he let the tired fellow rider sleep on his shoulder for the better part of the next hour, until the older man gently eased away to get up for his stop. In the meantime, another passenger snapped a photograph and posted it on social media, and it went viral.
As we entered a town in Australia, we were greeted by a sign that declared: “We welcome all who are seeking refuge and asylum.” This kind of welcome seems to resonate with the Old Testament concept of the cities of refuge. In the Old Testament era, cities of refuge (Num. 35:6) were established to be a safe haven for people who had accidentally killed someone and were needing protection. God had the people establish such cities to provide that refuge.
According to a study measuring the pace of life of cities in 32 countries, people in the biggest hurry live here in Singapore. We walk 60 feet in 10:55 seconds, compared to 12:00 seconds for New Yorkers and 31:60 seconds for those living in the African city of Blantyre, Malawi.
Not long ago I developed a physical problem. My left shoulder and arm were aching, I had a painful rash on my forearm and thumb, and I struggled daily with fatigue. When I finally went to the doctor, I learned that I had a case of shingles. The doctor put me on antiviral medication and said it would take several weeks for the disease to run its course.
Our golden retriever can get so overly excited that he will go into a seizure. To prevent that from happening, we try to calm him. We stroke him, speak to him in a soothing voice, and tell him to lie down. But when he hears “lie down,” he avoids eye contact with us and starts complaining. Finally, with a dramatic sigh of resignation, he gives in and plops to the floor.
When writer Bruce Feiler was diagnosed with bone cancer in his thigh, he couldn’t walk without some help for over a year. Learning to get around on crutches caused him to appreciate a slower pace of life. Feiler said, “The idea of slowing down became the number one lesson I learned from my experience.”
I find it fascinating to consider the pull of the moon on our great oceans, which creates high and low tides. At the changing of the tide, there is a brief period of time called “slack tide” when the water is neither high nor low. According to scientists, this is when the water is “unstressed.” It is a quiet pause before the surging of tidal flow begins again.