Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Life has its thorns

Penelope's was closed so I headed to Starbucks for a cup of black tea. Barb and the kids who work there are wonderful; they make you feel like you're a member of their family.

I was sipping tea and re-reading, "With the old Breed," by Eugene Sledge, an historical account of life and death struggles of the 5th Marines in the Pacific.

Waiting for further direction from my wife Kaitzer regarding afternoon pickups, I was wondering whether I was supposed take the girls to dance, violin, swimming, or play dates. I hadn't a clue.

At the adjacent table sat six seniors from La Cañada High. Their banter was boisterous and filled with complaints about the deficiencies of their classes, schedules, activities and teachers. They were just doing what kids do, and although I've been known to tune out a 122mm rocket attack, their conversation resonated like a bee buzzing in my ear.

Reading about the guys who stormed Peleliu against entrenched fanatical Japanese infantry was not compatible with listening to the complaints of these kids who were most probably the same age as many of the guys highlighted in the book.

It was as though the seniors were engulfed in the malaise of entitlement and believed the debilitating supposition that the barometer of life is perfection. Any deviation from nirvana is beyond apprehension, as they are children of the universe and entitled to the Garden of Eden.

I wanted to save them from themselves and scream, "Guys…I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden!" Instead, I put down my book, picked up a pen, and began to craft this write.

The novel, "I Never Promised you a Rose Garden," written by Hannah Green is the origin of the saying and was made famous by country singer Lynn Anderson's hit song of the same name. It was required reading in a philosophical psychology course I took in college. Deborah, a schizophrenic teenage girl created a fantasy world as refuge from her confusing and frightening reality. Her inability to cope with life sank her into the bowels of depression. Deborah's strong-willed, empathetic, and brilliant therapist, Clara Fried, slowly wins Deborah's trust. In an impassioned exchange, Clara tells Deborah, "I never promised you a rose garden. I never promised you perfect justice . . . and I never promised you peace of happiness. My help is so that you can be free to fight for all of those things. The only reality I offer is challenge. I never promise lies, and the rose-garden world of perfection is a lie!"

Eventually, Deborah realizes that life is not easy or fair, and that sometimes the only way to know that you're living is if you are fighting. She eventually decides that she'd rather be fighting and alive than resigned to a world that exists only in her mind.

In "What Makes Life Significant," philosopher William James writes, "Our human emotions seem to require the sight of the struggle." The struggle is life and that's reality.

Will these seniors ever learn that life is not a rose garden and that any deviation from perfection is not problematic? Life is life; it is neither perfect nor imperfect. It is not within the human condition to qualify or define life. Life defines us. Our ability to play with the cards we're dealt with becomes our epitaph.

I am convinced that the secret to life is attitude. Attitude is more important than circumstance. Everyday we have a choice regarding the attitude that we embrace. We cannot change the past or the inevitable, but what we can do is play on the only string we have and that is our attitude.

The seniors finished their Marble Mocha Macchiatos and their Maple Streusel Muffins, jumped into a Suburban adorned with inscriptions saying "Seniors Rock," and left in a whirlwind. I picked up "With the Old Breed," and sipped on my black tea.

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