The Postscript: In defense of Pollyanna
Published 9:15 am Monday, March 16, 2020
I think Pollyanna might have gotten a bum rap.
More than once in my life I’ve been accused of having a “Pollyanna attitude.” I didn’t actually know what this meant, except that it was not a good thing. Being “a Pollyanna” implied having an unrealistically sunny view of whatever was happening. Since Pollyanna and I had been linked so often, I thought I should finally read the book.
For children’s literature, Pollyanna is one dark book.
Spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t read it: Pollyanna is more like “The Book of Job” than any children’s book I’ve ever read. Written in 1913, the story tells how Pollyanna’s parents die and she moves in with an aunt who doesn’t want her. She is given a room in the attic, forbidden from mentioning her dead father and, in the horrible climax, is injured by one of the still rare and widely distrusted automobiles, and paralyzed from the waist down.
Through it all, she plays “The Glad Game,” in which she challenges herself to find something to be glad about in every situation—no matter how horrific.
I have to admit… I loved it.
Earlier this week, I had dinner with my former brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Mandy and Tom. (Except Mandy insists that, since she can’t be my sister-in-law anymore, she is now my sister). Since his stroke, Tom has made massive improvements but he remains stubbornly nonverbal. Tom understands everything that is said in conversation but has no words to participate. He can say, “Yeah,” and “No.” Over the past few years, this has elevated Mandy’s charade guessing skills to professional league.
“Was it a long time ago?” Mandy asks. “Yeah!” “Did it happen in Mexico?” “No.” “Was this in the water?” “Yeah!”
The fact that Tom is able to communicate at all is amazing. But more amazing yet is that, through it all, Tom smiles.
Tom smiles when no one understands what he’s saying. Tom smiles when people guess wrong. Tom smiles when people sometimes have to give up in confusion. Of course, Tom must become frustrated at times. No person in his position could not be wildly frustrated.
But Tom continues to smile, to laugh out loud, to let us know that he is not angry or depressed but that this is just… the way things are. Spending the evening with Tom and Mandy, I realized my Pollyanna status was strictly amateur.
Maybe folks are right. Maybe being a Pollyanna can mean ignoring reality and being in denial about how bad things really are. Maybe there is the danger I won’t take action when I should or stop bad things from becoming worse. I understand all this and I’ll accept the occasional correction if my rose-tinted glasses are no longer letting in the light of day.
But, for the most part, I am glad to be a Pollyanna because I know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that bad things do happen and that some of those bad things will happen to me.
I don’t know when, or what the precise nature of my misfortune will be, but I know that life has a heck of a lot of variety and that variety includes both wonderful things—and a lot of things like Tom’s stroke. Yet Tom has figured out a way to smile. And so, like Pollyanna, I figure it doesn’t hurt to look for reasons to be glad today—when I’ve got so much to be glad about.
If that makes me a Pollyanna, I guess I’ll be glad about that too.
Till next time,
Carrie Classon’s memoir is called, “Blue Yarn.” Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.