I've been working hard at trying to develop what I call my "Teflon Shield" so that bad vibes don't stick to me and negative comments slide off along with pessimistic emotions.
Generally I am an upbeat person, trying to remain calm and positive. There are people, who probably can't help it, but they heap negativity at themselves and those around them. Sidestepping these people can sometimes be a problem, some just want to get right in your face because they're not happy until you're not happy.
I have one friend who often says "Gee, you sound great over the phone, everything must be going fine for you!" I think to myself, if she only knew how close I am to falling off the tightrope I am navigating each day, just one breath away from falling. I pretend there is a safety net, walking confidently, but somehow I know, deep down inside, there is no netting at all. But maybe if I just convince myself there is safety netting, walking confidently along the high thin wire, I won't fall at all, but eventually make it to safety, on the other side.
Recently I was thinking about friends who suddenly announced they were in "full remission" from their fatal disease. We all cheered and rallied around them, marveling at the miracle, only to watch them drop dead shortly thereafter, then finding out there was NO remission at all.
I've seen this phenomenon happen twice to me. One was a lady I went on vacation with to celebrate her birthday. Matter of fact, eight of us went to celebrate her birthday and remission. It was a hastily planned trip, but, 900 miles away, her birthday was celebrated in the Florida Keys aboard a chartered sailboat with 8 of her close friends. She died less than a week later, after we all returned home. Her bereaved husband let us know, there was no remission. She made it all up.
So often when things are bad or people are sick, we tend to avoid them all together. Sick people notice this. So to regain their friends, they sometimes announce they are in full remission, even though it's just a false hope for all concerned. Maybe it's just a liferaft to cling to. Hoping for rescue in a vast lonely sea.
When I lived in St John in the Virgin Islands, I was rebuilding my sailboat in the harbor, at anchor. To combat loneliness, I often visited "table one" at a favorite watering hole. Table one was a transient table that sat 6-10 people, depending on how many we could crowd around it. You could sit there alone, but with others, and not have to eat alone. You could meet old cronies and make new friends. It was a fun table and the staff of the restaurant always made sure that "table one" was never given away to tourists or large groups.
One day, over lunch, at table one, I met an old man who was visiting his cousin who had to work construction all day. He was simply ambling about town, looking for something to do, just enjoying the tropical weather and scenery. He was having trouble with his arms and hands. He claimed to be recuperating from cancer, announcing that since he was now in full remission, he had come to the Caribbean to enjoy a much needed vacation.
Many warm afternoons, after lunch, I took my small motorized dinghy out of the noisy harbor, which shared traffic with large passenger ferries and small freighters, to another bay where there was an unspoiled gorgeous sandy beach with crystal clear waters. It could only be reached by a long hike, or by dinghy. Because of this remoteness, it was popular for the clothing-optional enthusiasts.
Indeed, I had become accustomed to going topless there, wearing only a G-string. I knew many of the beach goers anyhow, they were my neighbors in the harbor, also living aboard their boats at anchor, as this harbor had no marina. We were a fairly closeknit community. Maybe because once you've seen all your neighbors naked, you feel more relaxed around them, yet there is an intimacy, that makes you want to jump up and help them or rally around, anytime they needed help.
I knew the old man's younger cousin, he was a good sort. The man himself was about 30 years my senior, as well as his young cousin's. He seemed open and honest, harmless enough, he was underweight by about 20%, trying to keep himself entertained until his cousin got off work. I had finished my lunch, at table one. I was off work for the whole week, as back then I did yacht charters, working 16 hour days, for weeks at a time, so I often simply relaxed when I finally had a few days off to recuperate mind and body before the next big charter assignment.
So I invited him to ride in my dinghy to the beach after asking him if he would be offended by the clothing-optional nature of the beach. He laughed and said "Why no, then I won't have to waste money on buying a bathing suit!"
So for the next week, he was my passenger each afternoon, as we went to the beach. He marveled that swimming would help build up his stamina again, but he was often very weak. Besides swimming, I often laid in the shade of a palm tree reading a book. He often napped between brief swimmings. About a half hour before his cousin was due back from work, we would shake the sand off, get dressed, then head back in my slow little dinghy to the other harbor. I would drop him ashore, but he always wanted me to come have a drink with him, as he met his cousin in a bar each afternoon, after work. So most days, I went to happy hour with them too.
One night while drinking with the cousins, the younger cousin followed me to the restroom, to speak with me in private, away from the older man. He said he really appreciated me taking his cousin to the beach each day. I told him I was happy to have the company along, it was no big deal.
Eventually it was time for the older man to fly home again, and for me to leave on my next charter. I was going out on an 80 foot sailing yacht to cook and provide gourmet meals to 8 passengers and 4 crew. I also helped sail the yacht, plus my evenings were spent as the dinghy captain, ferrying the guests ashore to party or dance or both.
About ten days later, I came home again to my little sailboat. In town, that evening I ran into the younger cousin, asking him how the older fellow was doing, as he had flown home to the United States, about the same time I left on charter. He told me how much his cousin enjoyed those lazy afternoons at the idyllic beach, how he had quickly made friends with the other beach goers, how he looked forward to me coming into town each afternoon to offer him a ride to the beach. He was almost embarrassing me, as he laid on the "thank-you's" really thick. All I had done was offer him a ride each afternoon, which he had graciously accepted. It seemed odd, to be receiving these numerous thank-you's from the younger man.
He went on about how he called up north, after his cousin flew home, to make sure he had made it alright. He said his cousin just kept talking about those wonderful afternoons at the tropical beach, the freedom and nonsense, of swimming naked, at his advanced age, that it truly was the highlight of his trip to the islands. He said he was going to buy another ticket, to come back down to the islands, after he took care of some of his affairs.
He went on to explain how his relatives didn't want his cousin to come down to the Caribbean, to start with, because he was so sick and weak. One day he came out of the doctor's office, announced he was in full remission, and by golly, he was buying a ticket to the Caribbean to celebrate with his young cousin who lived there. His family had little choice, but to let him go.
I laughed, telling the cousin, isn't it funny how quickly we become hooked on the Caribbean and wasn't it wonderful his cousin was in full remission and had chose St John to come celebrate.
At this point, my friend's face clouded over. He looked down at his beer bottle, squeezing his eyes shut tightly. He took a long deep breath.
Maybe a full minute later, he opened his eyes, which were now rather moist as he told me in a near whisper "I'm sorry, he wasn't in full remission at all. He died less than 48 hours after leaving here. We just found out, from his autopsy and doctors, that he wasn't in remission at all. He just said that, so he could come on vacation down here, without everyone giving him grief that he was too sick to travel."
I sat there stunned. Finally my manners came back to me, as I grabbed my friend, giving him a long tight hug, telling him how sorry I was. My friend regained his composure. "Don't be sorry, he died a happy man. He got his final wish, to visit the Caribbean, and those trips to the beach were all he talked about every evening when I got off work. I think he lied about the remission because I think he just wanted everyone to stop treating him like a sick old man."
When all is said and done, all you can really change is your attitude.
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