Some say it’s the least felt of human emotions. That may be. It seems to be the feeling least written about from a mental health professional perspective. And yet, I’ve read that grateful people are happy people. Are they happy because they’re grateful, or vice versa? I should know because I consider myself one of them.
I am uneasy when people thank me for my military service. While there were days I would not want to repeat; some of those memories are among my best. It was my career – my profession. If people were silently grateful, I’d manage. I used to humbly balk at such comments, but I soon learned to say thank you and move on.
I was walking down a street in Crystal City, VA (just outside of Washington, D.C) with a US Marine Corps colonel. We were headed for a meeting. He was in his uniform, but I wore civilian clothes. As we were waiting to cross the street, an attractive young lady walked up and shook his hand as she thanked him for his service.
After she left, he said, “Since being married, I no longer know how to handle situations like that.”
I replied, “Next time, introduce your Air Force friend and I will take it from there.”
The value of gratitude to our overall mental health is well known. I know of no self-help book that suggests being thankless. Everything from gratitude lists to National Holidays inspire us to be reflective of those things and people we feel have improved our lives.
My favorite gratitude story involves the son of my wife’s sister. She had six boys, of which Scott was the youngest. Whenever we visited his family, I would find time to play with Scott. Be it baseball, football, basketball, or some other similar endeavor, Scott and I interacted and played – just the two of us. It never occurred to me, as the youngest boy, Scott’s five older brothers had better things to do. And his father, a borderline workaholic, had been worn down by the first five boys.
Eventually, Scott grew up, got married, and graduated from Texas University. He and Sarah had two lovely daughters. I enjoyed my time with him and never gave it another thought after we had both moved on with life.
Scott matured into a handsome, well-liked, and friendly man. Everyone liked him, despite his reputation as a clever prankster.
On a visit with Scott and his family, he asked to speak with me alone. After we retreated to a private area, he said, “I want to thank you for all those times you played ball with me when I was a kid. No one else did that and I have never forgotten. It meant a lot to me. Thank you.”
By being me and playing with some kid, I created memories for him. Now, my memory is of his expression of gratitude. Within a year, Scott had died of a congenital heart problem. When I learned of that, my first thought was of our chat.
I’ve had some experiences with work-type situations some people call “thankless jobs.” While I understand what they mean, I can never get my brain around what a ‘thankless’ job is.
As an additional part of my real job, I once volunteered to be a Facility Manager for a large building where several hundred people worked. I was paid nothing extra.
A few months into the building job (which my wife titled Permanent Latrine Orderly [PLO], from the movie No Time for Sergeants), I realized that all my voice mail messages were either new problems, or comments about on-going issues related to the building, not my real job. I liked the challenges and the idea that my efforts made a better place for people to work for nine hours or more each day.
I also enjoyed the times people expressed their gratitude to me for doing such a ‘thankless’ job. Even with that irony, I also liked when people sent emails to my boss telling him how much they appreciated what I did. He let me know. One day he introduced me to some visiting VIP as his Facility Manager rather than my real job title. Was that a slip-up, or was it because he most appreciated my building caretaker duties? Thankless? I think not!
Thankfully Happy Few
I admit, as Harvey McKay titled a chapter in How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, gratitude is (or may be) ‘the least felt of all human emotions.’ But I also know when we think about it, we are usually grateful.
It’s not a perfect world. We have a fair share of ingrates and thankless souls wandering around. But thankless is the other side of what we ought to be, and most of us seem to know it.
I further admit knowing some who fear happiness. They are normal when complaining or worrying. In those cases, we either simply wait for it, or we speed things up by asking, “How are you doing?”
Their answer is, “Well, let me tell you about it….”
There’s nothing wrong with having an attitude of gratitude and it may even lead to a healthier and happier life. Yet, I’ve known some very happy, but cantankerous old farts who relish the chip on their shoulder. Good for them.
The only thankless jobs are the ones we don’t want. People have been treated for long term depression, only to find relief with a job change. It happens.
And the only thankless people are the poor souls who may be struggling with their own sorrows, problems, or demons.
And isn’t happiness what we ultimately want? I think so.
Note: Dear beloved English teachers, current and past, I realize every sentence is not a complete sentence. It is intentional. Sorry.
For those of you not of my generation, may you be so lucky as to become old someday, to grow wiser than ever, and to be an able matriarch or patriarch of your tribe. May you be honored for your past, cherished for wisdom today, and be a loss lamented when your time happens.
My wife Facebook shared/posted a (much too) long epistle that numerically listed 21 items of advice for old people (like we effing need it). I don’t agree with most of it. My oldest (adult) son made the sarcastic comment (it’s in his genes), “Dad’s always been on top of the latest fashions.”
I never wear socks with sandals (matured in 60-70-80s), checks or plads with stripes, or color combos that make my wife wince. I wore a uniform for years, then (after a period of high-casual) went as laid back as I could pull off.
I was once asked by a fellow manager how I ran a department where employees (include me) dressed casual Friday, Monday thru Thursday. He told me he asked upper management and got an emphatic ‘NO!” My response was, “I didn’t ask.”
But, Billy has a point.
My below the waist wardrobe: shorts, sweat pants, or jeans (clean underwear). Feet: usually short socks, slide-on shoes of some kind with rubber soles (no crocks), maybe laces, rarely sandals, very temperature dependent. I rotate sneakers but have some for rain and some for mud.
Upper bod gets things with no buttons like an old (maybe new) tee, or pullover long sleeve thingy, or sweatshirt. Formal shirts have collars like golf/polo type. Have some mock turtlenecks for when I feel all cool Pat Conroy, John Updike, or Patterson-ish like.
Dark color, pull-over sweaters for my shady moods and gloomy times of Peter Reading, Poe, Blake, e. e., T.S., A.E., Ezra, or G.G. Lord Byron-ish days. I have them.
I wear baseball (sometimes newsboy/Irish eight-piece/flat) caps.
I have clothes I no longer wear (since retired): Docker-like slacks, dress pants (not sure what still fits), sport coats covered to keep dust off, ‘nice’ long-sleeved button-down shirts (dusty), leather shoes (no wingtips or suede).
One pair of hiking boots I also use for motor scooter rides. I do have variations of workout garb that changes with the weather. A mix of sweat or beach hoodie thingies (how cold is it?) including a red rain jacket. Casual jackets, several of which I cannot recall ever having worn. I have my USAF leather flight jacket that screams ‘you put on a few’ when I wear it.
At home, it’s about how I feel. Out, it depends. I may be professor R.J. at the library, but more Chinasky at the pub. Writing at coffee shops is mood-determined. On my worst low-casual day, I look better than half the peeps in Wally World (maybe more than half), but who cares?
The last time I wore a tie either somebody died, got hitched, or I was being paid to dress like that. I have tossed a ton of ties, but a dusty dozen remain in my closet with all those belts. I wear one belt and only with jeans, but have beaucoup backups.
I try to keep my hair cut short (no old man pony tails for me, thanks), I brush and floss daily, walk about 2mi a day (when motivated), swim a bit more than that in week (shower daily after swim), sit way too much at this computer, go to one or two ‘social’ events a week, read not enough, watch some (too much) TV (The Voice, NCIS [needs me to write for them], Chicago PD, Fire, Med-maybe, an occasional Netflix movie or documentary, Bull a bit, some football [maybe]). If I go to the movie (or other) theater, I will dress medium casual, but at home…eff-it.
I really do care.
So, what’s up with (in) my closet? An old flight suit that no way would ever fit again, covered sports jacks and an old Class-A, USAF uniform (‘when I wore a younger man’s clothes’), too many shirts of which I wear less than half, pants that if not jeans I never wear, and two baskets for shorts, sweat pants, and miscellaneous whatever.
In drawers I have socks (mostly over-ankle types worn less than one day a week, if it is a socks day), underwear of which some %-age always needs tossed out, more tees, and too many pull over sweaters (all of which I like and do intend to wear, [see mood comments above] but I live in Texas). ‘tis the season, though – twenty-five degrees here this morning, which is why I sit writing this instead of out humpin’ for my 2 miles. Do not hang pullover sweaters on hangers. It gives them (you) shoulder bumps.
Okay. The truth is that I am an old man who basically does WTF he wants and has a dress and grooming code/standard bar set at ‘somewhat’ acceptable, if anyone cares. I do not wear stink (fragrances like cologne or after shave). Me? A fool? I think not; but passionate? Hell, YES! (Just not about my rags.) So, let’s end this with a poem by Yeats.
A prayer for old age by WB Yeats
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;
From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song’s sake a fool?
I pray—for word is out
And prayer comes round again—
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.
Look both ways on the closet rack and ask, “why do I have?”
Mind the gaps in the closet, for a tie’s a poor gift to an old man who’d be tickled with a kiss.
The past happened without me, as will the future.
Beginning on what day will I no longer get out of bed?
Unable to remove the mask and walk away,
to pee or whatever. Will I know anything?
On what day will I no longer want coffee?
I can handle not to have. But not to want?
Does nirvana or moksha reflect happiness or denial?
On what morn I’ll no longer begin a day’s reading?
Is not my quest for knowledge stewed in desire?
To have and to hold, to want and to need. To care?
There’s more I want to know. Will I care? Do I?
Must I stop loving her on that day? As the Jones song goes.
Will my dignity be intact, or will it be the first to go?
Will I die in a puddle of shit? As many would see that as fit.
Will I remember my name, yours, where I am? Will I care?
Is there such a thing as death with dignity? Or do we
just pass on to return life for life? Don’t talk like that?
Away and towards. Turn, turn, turn. Say I love you.
I am atheist. I groan when I read, “as an atheist” before people make a statement. Well, guess what? I owe lots of apologies because….
As an atheist, I have been asked how we handle life when it sucks: sick kids (or grands), lost jobs, death of friends and loved ones, financial trouble, or any disaster. They rightfully ask, “How do you get through those tough times when even heavy-duty doubters pray for relief?” We do manage without god. Not only are there atheists in fox holes, some of us have died there.
I’m dealing with a cancer diagnoses and some of my doctors ask me how I feel about it. “Well, Doc, this is one time I wish you were wrong. Now, let’s do this.” I want action, science, and medicine; not prayers.
Here’s what I got for ya. Franky, baby! I love the song; both the music and lyrics of That’s Life, by Frank Sinatra. Some say, this too shall pass, but the song puts that theory on another emotional level, and I love it. I hope you do too.
Here are the lyrics. Below them, I also posted a youtube video with music, singing, and the words. Now, let’s get back up, brush ourselves off, and have a wonderful July.
That’s life (that’s life) that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June
I said, that’s life (that’s life) and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race
That’s life (that’s life) I tell ya, I can’t deny it
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face
I just pick myself up and get back in the race
That’s life (that’s life) that’s life
And I can’t deny it
Many times I thought of cuttin’ out but my heart won’t buy it
But if there’s nothing shakin’ come here this July
I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die