Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Wed 1/11/2006 2:23 AM
Random Thought: Here's To A Cup of Cheer

A cheerful and belated Happy New Year to each and all. Just got back from two weeks of grandbaby spoiling in San Mateo. Susan and I didn't light up with the hats, horn, confetti, and all-night bacchanalian rites on New Year's Eve. We tipped our cup of kindness with a quiet kiss and hug of intoxicating gratefulness and good cheer, and then hit the sack. Didn't make it to the dropping of the ball this year. At least, not the one that dropped on the West Coast.

It's been a little over a month since my hernia operation. I didn't realize how quick it would take me to get back to a brisk five mile walk. Power walking that distance can only be a couple of months behind. As I slid up and down the Himalayan hills of San Mateo, seeing the new year's first sun slowly coming up from behind the ridge of hills, watching the darken sky transform into shades of gray and then being veined by roses and purples and oranges, watching the twinkling world go out of view and watching our world come into view, I thought, like Louis Armstrong, "what a wonderful world." I have been cancer free for almost a year. And although this hernia operation at the beginning of December, which was the result of last January's prostatectomy, has slowed me down for a while, I felt a glorious privilege to be here, to have the "Big C" of the cancer word replaced by the bigger "Big C" of the cure word and cancer-free word, to be alive, to know, to touch, to feel, to act, to listen, to see, and to love. And, to do all these things sincerely, deeply, freely, appreciatively, simply, and especially cheerfully. That's what was on my mind that fresh morning of a fresh month of a fresh year: cheerfulness.

. We just came out of the season to be jolly. Some would say that the celebrating and feasting and present giving of Ramadan, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwaansa, and New Year's is now replaced by the migraine of winter. Others would say that the mirth of late November and December now becomes the murk of January, the ice of February, the wind of March, and the whims of April.. Still others would say that after all the harking angels and decking halls and spinning dredels and busy sidewalks, it's now a waiting game for the fresh breath of bursting gardens. And still others would say this holiday season is a pausing aberration from the "let's get back to" real world, daily grind of our personal and professional lives. But, I ask, does it have to be? Isn't it our choice to decide whether each new day of each new year can be magic. Why can't each day of the year be our best yet? What is there to stop us from tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-ing all year long? I mean there's a certain vitality to the idea of starting anew; there's a certain refreshment with the sense of promise that there can be regeneration ahead of us even though the past is never cauterized; there's a certain calmness to a cheerful life living in quiet but shared rejoicing and gratitude; there's a certain exhilaration to finding that one something to be cheerful about each day. In fact, I can't talk enough about cheerfulness. Why? Remember, as Epictetus might say if he were here today, we are disturbed or pleased not by people or things, but by our perception of people and things. And so, it takes just one cheery word or thought or feeling to keep the dark, cold day bright and warm. That means the level of our inner cheerfulness, our inclination to accentuate the positive, will reveal itself and impact on everything you do.

One of the tunes Irving Berlin wrote for picture, White Christmas, has a lyric, "If you're worried and you can't sleep; just count your blessings instead of sheep. And you'll fall asleep counting you’re your blessings." It is not a cliché. Trust me. I know. When I think of my two sons, their two wonderful wives, my three grandchildren, my Susan, my dear friends, my close colleagues who are like extended family, my sister and her husband (he once was my best friend and college roommate) and their families, Susan's brother and his family, our brother-in-law and his family, other family members, all the well-wishing students, the differences I've made in the lives of others, loving what I do and where I am, when I think of all that and more, my blessings are larger than any flock of black sheep. This past year being cheerful carried me over the rough spots. It brought life-warming sunshine into the cold, dark days and lit up the gloom. It filled my heart with a kind of serenity I've seen how it is the best antitoxin for your heart and spirit and mind and body I know that can repel the viral hordes of attacking worries and fears and discouragements and doubts and challenges and difficulties and tribulations that will come my way this coming year.

I feel a poetic line or two coming on:

		There is so much around to gladden 
			that overwhelms what there is to sadden.  
		You can stop the rain that makes you sad 
			by just being grateful for the days you've had.  
		Think of the things that come your way 
			that make you smile each day.  
		Think of joyous things that can enter your room 
			that can hurry out all that doom and gloom.  
		Think of who you are 
			and of all the things that have taken you this far.
		Think of all you can do
			to reach out and touch those who are in need of you
		So lift a cup of good cheer
			And be grateful and happy you're just here.

Longfellow, eat your heart out!!

I don't think I am naturally cheerful. I don’t think cheeriness is any more instinctive or spontaneous than is grumpiness. But, it's not a matter of course, and it isn't a comfy bed of roses. It's not simple or easy. It's a daily choice to hold tight to my cup in the face of those things and people who would consciously or inadvertently wrest it from me and empty it. It's a struggle with myself, usually subtle, at times out-and-out combat. It's a test. It's an obstacle course. It's a struggle with who I presently am, who I want to be, and with who I can be. I have to seek it out. I have to remind myself or be reminded as I just was by my younger son when I falter. I have to pick myself up. I have to choose. It's an acquired trait, a habit of the heart, an attitude of the mind. I am cheerful because I choose to be, because I am determined to be cheerful, because each day I want to take life in my arms as tightly and lovingly as I do my angelic Susan, because I believe--no, I know--my cheerfulness is dependent on the inside me and not on the outside others or my circumstances, because I don't want to be and won't be pushed around by others and circumstances, because I constantly think cheerful thoughts, because I consciously have cheerful feelings, because I constantly have cheerful conversations with myself, because my motto is "whatever is, is," because it makes me feel good, because I know it does no good and it doesn't feel good to be a cynical and gloomy Scrooge. I consciously use those powerful zygomatic major and orbicularis oculi facial muscles to make a smilely on my face, to lift my spirit, to give my heart hopeful and faithful beats, to sparkle my eyes, to keep my soul youthful, and to brighten my mind. I constantly recharge myself with sensual and spiritual pleasure, like the sight of my grandchildren, waking up next to my angelic Susan, talking to the flowers in my garden, taking my pre-dawn meditative walks, talking with personal and professional friends and colleagues, walking into a classroom. And don’t' think others don't notice it.

What does this have to do with teaching? Everything. I find that being cheerful makes me a more understanding, forgiving, supportive, encouraging, seeing, listening, faithful, hopeful, and loving me. It gives me a power of endurance and tolerance. It lets me do things with more confidence. It gives me an inner moral and mental and spiritual strength over life's difficulties. It gives me a strong, happy heart that in the long run is almost impossible to weaken and dishearten. Think about it. Somewhere, somehow, at some time, some teacher's cheer has touched and changed your life. Think about that someone and you know the power of cheer to reach beyond itself. Think about it and you know the humbling impact of cheer to find something greater than yourself. Think about it and you will remember that it is a force that cannot be ignored. Think about it and you'll see that when cheer appears, it takes on a life of its own. It can penetrate into the farthest of corners; it can lighten up the darkest of places; it can lift up the heaviest of hearts; it can melt the hardest of attitudes.

I would be remiss, then, not to offer my cheeriness as a gift and not to use it as a teaching and learning method. Cheeriness unshared is like a candle unlit. So, this year I resolve to choose to light that candle daily, to give a smile and good cheer as my every day gift to myself and those around me. I'm not sure I could do otherwise and hold it back any more than I could hold back the wind or the tide. Yeah, I know all about New Year's resolutions. We vow with all sincerity to do better and adopt habits that will make us healthier and wiser. The bad news about resolutions is that the lottery ticket pays off more than most resolutions. The early weeks of January are littered with broken promises and shelved plans. Maybe that's because such resolutions are usually all about ourselves. The good news is that the resolutions carried out, especially the ones that involve serving others as well as ourselves, pay off more than the lottery tickets. Take the resolution to be cock-eyed cheerful. Cheerfulness is contagious. I am positive that when I choose to be positive and cheery, I feel positive and cheery. And when I feel positive and cheery, people around me have a better chance of being cheery. Cheery people, colleagues or students, will have a better chance of feeling happier, more hopeful, more confident, more positive, and more encouraged. Being cheerful is one of the most sincere, meaningful, kindly, and valuable gifts I can give to myself and others. My cheer is far more valuable than anything that could be wrapped up in a brightly colored box and place under a Christmas tree or near a Chanukah menorah. Mark Twain once said that the best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up. I will add that when you make the world a cheerier place for others, when you bring sunshine into the lives of others, you have the good fortune of living in that world too and basking in that same sunlight.

So, will you join me this year to be cheerful each day, however difficult it may be, to find something each day to be cheerful about, to find someone to celebrate about? If you do, so will others around you and they will give it to you in return. To have a cheery mind and heart and spirit is a great teaching tool.

Have a Happy New Year, a cheerful heart, a smiley face, and each day....

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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