On Joy and Balance
Read this on galpod.com.
I’ve got a story within a story for you today. I thought a lot about how best to tell it, but I want to tell it the way I know it, and I trust that you’d follow me. It’s a story my uncle told me.
In the 1970s or 1980s, my grandfather had a shop for fixing truck springs. It’s rather niche, but it’s a living. My uncle used to work there when he was a young man after he came back from the army (with an injury I never really understood). One Friday evening, they were working on a particularly stubborn case. My grandfather was humming along and smacking his belly in contentment. My uncle turned to him and asked, what are you so happy about? You’re covered in grease, working into the weekend. How are you this cheerful?
My grandfather told him that, when he was in Russia with someone somewhere (this was WWII, so I’m not sure that even if he was still alive, he would have remembered), they started taking fire and dropped to the ground. Or maybe they were taking cover in a ditch. Someone fell over him while they were taking fire, so he couldn’t get up. When the fire stopped, he managed to roll out from under the soldier on top of him, who was dead at this point.
And my grandfather told my uncle something to this effect: “I had no business coming out of that war alive. But I did. And I have a home to return to tonight, with a hot shower and a meal waiting for me. What else do I need?”
My uncle told me this story a couple of years ago, but when he did, it felt familiar, and I’m pretty sure I’d heard that story before. When I remembered this story, my first reaction was, wouldn’t life have been so much easier for me if I’d inherited my grandfather’s approach to life? I would have been a sunny, cheery person, for sure. That’s how I remember him: always smiling, always up for mischief. I remember him buying me sweets, taking me to the beach, feeding me while I read (he couldn’t read Hebrew).
For a few years, I’ve been trying to find the balance between two sides of me. My grandmother’s side is the side that plans ahead, works hard, doesn’t give up. The side that’s scientific, critical, and harsh. My grandfather’s side, apparently, is the side that is playful and irreverent and cheeky and genuinely happy to be alive in this wonderful, literally awesome world. It’s my creative, shawl-wearing, muse-worshipping side.
I heard an episode of Hidden Brain where they talked about how our beliefs shape our perception of the world and, therefore, our reality. I took the survey that Dr Clifton has on his website, but I find that it doesn’t capture the balance work. Dr Clifton’s survey doesn’t have a category for people with both sides. People who are, on some days, judgemental and harsh, and push themselves because no one else will do anything for them. And on some days, they are playful and creative and take pleasure in tamarisk blossom. I don’t know if there’s a category for us, but I think it’s called humans.
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