National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: ‘Another Day in Paradise’

There’s a small sign on my kitchen wall, located where I can’t avoid seeing it when I stumble in for my morning coffee. Picked up from some curious place in Rehoboth Beach, it reads, “Another day in paradise.”

Of course, the phrase could be taken in a cynical way, like it was when chosen as the title of an indie movie a few years back that was about anything but. Usually, when they see it on my wall, people laugh in that kind of a wry way.

But not me. In my morning fog, or at night when I come home fretting from the day’s worries or anguishing over negative comments by a detractor (not!), gazing at it for just an instant almost immediately shapes me up.

Yes, it is another day in paradise. Merely being alive is like that, and it’s one thing I hope I can affirm for as long as I’m around, no matter how otherwise constrained, disabled or in pain I might become. If nothing else, life offers that steaming cup of coffee, that next delicious tuna sandwich.

It’s an attitudinal thing. It’s kind of like the “Wag more, bark less, be happy!” little bumper sticker-ette a friend had printed up that I’ve put on both my aging cars.

I am reminded, when in this sunny state of mind, about a story I heard an old southern preacher man tell on TV late one night. He said that there was a woman who showed up in his congregation once who sat at the far edge of a pew by herself and, holding herself around the belly and rocking forward and backwards, mumbled mournfully over and over again, “Help me, Jesus, help me, Jesus, help me, Jesus.”

The preacher man said that he turned to the woman from the pulpit and said, “Madam, rather than saying ‘help me, Jesus’ over and over again, can I suggest you try repeating, ‘Thank you, Jesus,” instead?”

Well, according to this preacher, she thought for a bit and then took him up on it. She started slow and quietly. But gradually she started chanting “Thank you, Jesus” louder and louder, and finally jumped to her feet, thrust her arms into the air and veritably sung it at the top of her lungs.

She had, shall we say, gone through an attitude adjustment. She had found a sustainable source of happiness through an expression of gratitude for she did have, even if it was only the air she could breathe, rather than mourning over what she didn’t.

It doesn’t take much of a religious person to see the virtue and the underlying merit in this story.

It’s not done in denial of the terrible problems and suffering that exists in the world, including often enough on a very personal level, but it is done in spite of all that.

For me, applying this approach to some unsavory memories of experiences, or people, past can produce a similarly cleansing, insightful and uplifting result.

How about, instead of angrily replaying the infinite loop of childhood resentments or missed opportunities, one instead resolved to try experiencing gratitude, instead?

The moment one does this, it can unlock a whole bushel-basket full of perhaps locked-away and forgotten memories of times and experiences that were not so bad, after all. A terrible consequence of regret is that it causes a mental fixation that effectively blocks the memory of any contrary experiences surrounding whatever incidents or persons might have been its cause.

All this has a powerful impact on self-esteem, too, in ways that can carry on through a person’s entire life. If one views the past as primarily a series or sequence of unfortunate events or instances of exploitation or coercion, or at least that it has been inordinately influenced by such things, then one adopts the view that he or she has, through this entire period, been out of control of one’s own destiny.

If, on the other hand, one accepts personal responsibility for all these things, and attributes them all to personal shortcomings, errors and missteps, then one’s psyche remains beset by countless landmines of self-contempt and remorse.

Yet, what is far more likely the case with most of us is the fact that our lives have been governed by a pretty good sequence of personal decisions and choices, defined by limitations for sure, but pretty well thought out in the context of the possible at any given point.

When genuine mistakes are made, at least they can be better identified, evaluated and dissected from out of the process of one’s overall flow of life decisions.

At least this approach puts one in the mindset to not only appreciate but regain a stronger sense of control over where his or her life may go from here.

“My powers of judgment have actually been there all along,” one might reflect. “There were good reasons behind most of the choices I made.”

Physical and other limitations notwithstanding, one never loses the capacity to act sensibly and efficiently, and can carry that forward to partake of yet another day in paradise.