Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pollyanna -- commentary

Sometimes life’s experiences and a good book complement each other. So it was for me as I finished reading my mother’s favorite book from her childhood: “Pollyanna.” Mother is 91-years-old and lives in an assisted living home. In spite of being blind, diabetic, and wheel chair bound, she maintains an optimistic view on life.

For you who have never read Pollyanna, the main character, after whom the book is titled, is orphaned and sent off to live with an aunt. The aunt takes in the orphan only out of a sense of duty and does little to make her feel at home.

Pollyanna has a game she loves to play which she learned from her Pastor father. Whenever she encounters negative circumstances, she looks for something in them that she can be glad about. She calls it the glad game.

She is talkative and gregarious to a fault and so positive she makes Norman Vincent Peale look like a Sunday school kid. (It was Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking” that helped shape me as a boy.) She has soon befriended every miserable, negative person in town and has them playing her glad game. Of course it transforms the community. The book was written a century ago, and over time, her name has become a synonym for optimism.

No philosophy is worth much until it has been tested.
For Pollyanna, the test comes when she is hit by a car and paralyzed from the waist down. Can she still play the game?

As I write this, it is the anniversary of my own collision with a car which left me in the hospital for 60 days and unable to walk. Can I play the glad game?

To begin with, I’m glad God made bodies that can heal themselves and, though a bit lame, I can now walk a mile and a half fairly comfortably, ride a bicycle much longer distances, and carefully wade in Spring River to fly fish.

I’m glad the need to rehabilitate my legs has gotten me back into a regular exercise routine. Over the years, I had paid attention to my physical health, but when I retired from the Army National Guard seven years ago, at age 60, I no longer had the need to pass the annual Army physical test. My motivation had disappeared and I had quit all regular physical exercise, put on weight, and was no longer in top physical condition. I am now back to regular physical exercise and again in good physical health. Sometimes we need an external motivator to help us do what we know is good for us.

One thing President Obama stresses as he campaigns for health care reform is the need for prevention. He is right about this. One of the best things any of us can do for our health is routine exercise.

I had a pastor friend one time who did much pastoral counseling. However, he would not counsel anybody long term who would not get involved in regular exercise. He claimed the evidence is conclusive that people who exercise regularly respond better in counseling. Since he did not charge for his counseling services, he felt exercising was the least a person could do on their own behalf.

Doctors tell us one of the best things we can do for our health is to walk 30 to 45 minutes three times a week. My grandfather took this advice and was still walking two miles a day well into his 90’s. There have been studies done that show if you add a little weight lifting to the regime, even for those in their 70’s and 80’s, the body will respond positively.

I wish our President well in this wellness endeavor, but what will he use for an external motivator for those who won’t exercise? The more we can individually do to reduce the cost of health care, the better.

There is a lesser thing for which I am glad. Before my accident I was on Cymbalta to control a neuropathy that caused severe pain in my right foot toes. After the accident, the pain never reappeared and I no longer take the Cymbalta. Anytime I can quit taking a pill, I’m glad, and I’m now down to just one prescription.

So, did Pollyanna’s philosophy pass the test? Even though it is nearing its hundredth birthday, it is still a good read, so I’ll let you find the answer. Though it will probably not appear on anybody’s best seller list anytime soon, you can still find copies. If your local library doesn’t have it, Google “free e-books” and download it from one of the websites listed. I’m positive you will enjoy it and maybe you too can get in the glad game.

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