Our happy car was on its way to West Virginia to visit my in-laws, when Julie, my sister-in-law, spots Katherine’s purple “a complaint free world” bracelet.
“Katherine, have you promised not to complain for 21 days?” she asks her niece.
“What are you talking about?”
“The other day Oprah had on her show the guy who started the movement to wear purple bracelets, to remind yourself not to complain for 21 days. He started with his church, and word spread, and now it’s this huge deal.”
“Ahh,” I said. “That explains the book and the bracelet I got in the mail the other day. Word must be out that I’m a whiner, a professional and prolific whiner.”
“It’s harder than you think.”
“I’m sure it is,” I said, “because you have to cancel all of your plans for three weeks.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you obviously can’t go to therapy. Or if you do, I guess you could say something like, “I don’t really have anything to talk about today because I’ve achieved the perfect balance between motherhood and career, between raising kids and what I see as my ministry of educating people on mental illness. And the sticker-system is working out just great for David’s behavioral issues—except for, you know, yesterday when he hit the babysitter. But, truly, what a gift that was: he has learned to express himself in body language! And I’m given the delightful challenge of finding a new sitter, an activity I just ADORE.”
“I don’t think therapy is complaining.”
“And I’d have to cancel all my doctor’s appointments. Because when my endocrinologist asks me if I’ve been experiencing symptoms of pituitary problems, I’d have to say something like: ‘I have been skipping my periods again, but that means our family can save on the cost of tampons and I can start wearing white again with confidence! I’ve also begun lactating, but how awesome is it to have an in-house dairy bar, and a bra packed with breast pads!’ When she asks me if there were any side effects to the medication I was on before, I could say, ‘Just the pregnant belly effect, but I’ve been dying to pull out my maternity clothes again, and play the how-far-along-do-you-think-I-am? game with friends and family. Yippee!'”
And forget about coffee with friends. Or any conversation that gets too personal, like “What’s new with you?”
“Oh gosh, our family just had the most magnificent opportunity to ride in the ambulance the other day! David has been waiting for his chance ever since little Will got to go in it after he took the polar bear plunge a few years back.”
“I’m sure there are definitions as to what consists of a complaint,” Julie said.
“I’m sure there are. In truth I only read the first sentence of the book: ‘In your hands you hold the secret to transforming your life.’ If I told you why I didn’t have time to read the book in entirety it would sound like I was complaining, so let me just say this: my mission in life is to be real, and that involves a few complaints. I think that not being real is what contributes to so much of our sickness and disease, especially in this country. Everyone feels the need to wear the McDonald’s Happy Meal face all the time. It’s unnatural.”
The First Noble Truth of the Buddha is that suffering exists in life, that there is no getting around the pain. M. Scott Peck began his modern day classic with these three words: “Life is difficult.”
Now maybe I was just born with a relatively low happiness level, or maybe I insist on seeing the cup half empty, or maybe I’m threatened by a guy telling the world not to complain because I make a living from whining. As Eric often points out to me, “What happens if you get totally healthy and normal? There goes our livelihood.”
But I’d like to think otherwise—that I simply honor truth. That means praising God in the happy moments—like yesterday, when David and I picked apples in a beautiful orchard with his school friends. As I looked at him run through the maze of haystacks with that stunning smile of his, I said a prayer of thanksgiving for this blessing. But I also pick up the phone during those times of sheer terror—like the afternoon of Katherine’s 911 call—to reach out for real friends who allow me to tell them how I’m REALLY doing—scared, shaky, confused, and a tad mad at God.
In fact, I may very well design my own bracelets with yellow happy and sad faces that promote honesty, “a real world.org,” take the 21-day challenge. Let’s see which does more good.