Jean Tanner: Ramblings on a life of optimism
Tra-la-la, tweedle-dee-dee, it gives me a thrill, to wake up in the morning to the mockin’ bird’s trill. Tra-la-la, tweedle-dee-dee, there’s peace and goodwill, you’re welcome as the flowers on Mockingbird Hill.” — George Vaughn Horton
This song, made popular in the early 1950s, popped in my head recently. Stepping outdoors at sunrise, the air was filled with the melodious song of the mockingbird. It was music to my ears, making it feel like spring was right around the corner, even though Punxsutawney Phil had predicted six more weeks of cold weather.
“Aha,” I thought. “I think the groundhog got his wires crossed. Sounds like an early spring on the way.” In my mind, I quickly changed the words of the last line in the chorus to: “You’re welcome as the flowers on Tanner’s Hill.”
But that was before the week of Feb. 7 besieged us with more than a week of cold, rainy weather. However, being the optimistic person I am, I held onto the thought that there were better days ahead, and on Feb. 16 we had a full day of sun.
“For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1
Seniors in my graduating class of 1957 had to characterize themselves with a quote in the school’s yearbook. My thought was: “Letdowns and disappointments are the stepping stones of life.” Though those were thoughts of a naïve 17-year-old, they have followed me through a life of optimism.
Reading from Rev. Billy Graham’s “Hope for Each Day,” one of my morning inspirational reads, brought to my mind an unforgettable experience from my youth. It read: “Have you ever been under water for a period of time that is longer than you had expected? You know, as the time ticks away, how desperate you become to reach the surface and breath the air.”
This really caught my attention. Rev. Graham was using this metaphor to illustrate Psalm 84:2: “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” This reading could describe the time when I thought I was surely going to drown.
I was 12 years old and vacationing with relatives in Miami. My cousin suggested we go to the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables one day. Wow! I was really amazed by the first cement swimming pool I had seen.
It covered 4 acres, occupying a shallow quarry displacing some 820,000 gallons of fresh water daily from artesian wells, making it the largest pool in the U.S. It had been completed in 1924 with a huge waterfall, water-filled caves, diving boards and an even higher diving area from the quarry’s rock pile.
Of course, adventurous 50-pound Jean had to climb the ladder to the rock pile some 20 feet above water and jump in feet-first. Now, this was a young squirt whose only experience with water was the tidal river at Stoney Creek, jumping from a low-hanging cedar limb and dog-paddling back to the bank.
When I jumped off that high ledge, all I could think was that my lungs were bursting for air and surely I’d never make it back up. Finally breaking the surface and gasping for air, I vowed never to be that adventurous again.
Still, my optimistic side kicked in, reminding me there were better days ahead.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” — Helen Keller
Another daily inspirational read of mine, “Our Daily Bread,” on Feb. 5 touched on another optimistic person: Harriet Tubman. She was one of the great American heroes of the 19th century.
Not content to simply enjoy her own freedom, she ventured back into slave states 19 times to guide more than 300 slaves north to free territory, sometimes guiding people on foot all the way to Canada.
Her strength was in the scripture reading, “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand.” (Isaiah 41:13)
My yearbook quote came to fruition again with the death of our youngest son at the age of 18 in 1980. It was a heartbreaking experience.
Faith in God, optimism and relying on my favorite scripture, Isaiah 40:31, carried me from day to day: “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
Just as an eagle has the unique ability to lock its joints and fly effortlessly on an updraft instead of flapping its wings, we wait on God. He guides us by using the winds of adversity to soar above our suffering.
Something else that helped during that sorrowful time was learning how to crochet. I crocheted afghans using my own stitch designs, colors and lengths for friends to keep warm from head to toe. I also crocheted a king-size spread for our bed. That really kept my hands busy for quite a while.
Writing this column brought to my mind two faithful readers and Christian gentleman. Both are early-morning walkers. William Johnson meditates on scripture as he walks and Norman Payne sings his favorite hymns. They both live in the hills of Virginia, where at this writing they are experiencing six to nine feet of snow.