Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A positive attitude will get us through

Columnist Joe Puglia notes the sidewalk chalk art drawn by La Cañada children during the coronavirus pandemic illustrates how a positive attitude can ease difficult situations.
Columnist Joe Puglia notes the sidewalk chalk art drawn by La Cañada children during the coronavirus pandemic illustrates how a positive attitude can ease difficult situations.
(File Photo)

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the news is all doom and gloom. In times of duress, staying positive is most essential. However, we indeed need to take this virus seriously. It’s capable of causing severe illness and death, not to mention drastic long-term changes as to how we live and work. Its crippling effect on the economy is no joke. Uncertainty is the new normal.

But in the presence of continuous uncertainty and lack of clarity, there lies a potential for change and growth. Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” during a time when England was experiencing outbreaks of bubonic plague. Humanity has been down this road a million times before, maybe even more. If you look at history, there’s always a promise of something bigger looming just beneath the surface although we’re unable to see it at the moment.

From the pretext of evolutionary biology, we see that the only thing certain is not uncertainty, it is change. Subsequently, the antidote for such times of duress stems from the ancient Sufi poets. “And this too shall pass away,” they maintained.

When speaking of the uncertain events to come, Abraham Lincoln, in a speech, told a story of an Eastern monarch “who asked his wise men to invent a sentence which would be true and appropriate in all times and situations. ‘And this too shall pass away,’” Lincoln said. “How much it expresses! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

In my life, such philosophy created an oasis during times of duress. Since I can only craft these thoughts relevant to my own experiences, here’s the kicker: the Sophists’ philosophies alone ain’t good enough. Attitude is the missing ingredient that completes the antidote.

As a community, our collective attitude is critical. When we take into consideration the preponderance of charitable acts demonstrated throughout La Cañada during this crisis, I’d say we are faring well. Our individual attitude is equally as important. Attitude is always a choice.

The eminent philosopher and psychologist Viktor Frankl in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” said, “Everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Last October, the Basic class, where Marine officers train for six months, held its 50th reunion in San Diego. I had a previous teaching gig, so I arrived late. I had misplaced my name tag, so I thought no one would remember me. I was in the presence of conspicuous personalities, many of whom were heroes. Bill Weir, a retired general, along with Col. Steve McCartney, recognized and enthusiastically greeted me.

After warm exchanges of pleasantries, I asked, “How do you guys even remember me?”

McCartney had a puzzled look. “How can we not? You had the best attitude; you got us through.”

The other morning, I left the house at 5 a.m. and sojourned through the deserted streets of La Cañada. Lately, I’ve not seen the lonely coyote who prances across El Vago heading back to the hills after the night’s scavenging. By first light I’m typically heading west on Green Lane toward my final destination, a cup of Earl Grey in my backyard. Walking up the lane, I saw a series of messages inscribed in chalk, printed in the hand of a child. “Smile,” I read. The next one said “Be Cheerful.” As I crested Green, I read, “Don’t forget to smile.”

The children who left those inscriptions were Sufi poets. Their secret messages were as valid as the wise men’s gifts to the eastern monarchs. They knew the antidote to this scourge, and they passed it to me and now, I’ve passed it to you.

Dear neighbors, during this pandemic, attitude will get you through. The way we choose to approach circumstance ultimately defines us. This is our time.

God Bless! Stay well!

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