LDS World: The power of optimism

Published: Sunday, July 3 2011 5:30 a.m. MDT

Although Margaret is closing in on age 90, stands perhaps 5-foot-2 and it was 10:30 p.m., she thought nothing of going outside to wrestle her big, unwieldy garbage can across the street, so she wouldn’t miss trash pickup the next morning. It had not been a particularly good day for her. She went to the temple and found herself suddenly so confused that she had trouble dressing and speaking and needed assistance. The afternoon was uneventful, but at 10:30 p.m. she suddenly remembered the garbage! Margaret recalls pulling the can across the street.

The next thing she knew she was face down on the asphalt and couldn’t get to her feet. She figured if she could get to the lawn she could grip the grass and pull herself up. She could only get there by rolling, and in doing so noticed her hands were sticky and wet. Blood was pouring out her nose and, although in a daze, she knew it had to be stopped. She used her fingers to pinch the bridge of her nose to stop the flow and vaguely remembers rolling her blouse and using it to try to staunch it and to catch the blood.

The next thing she remembered was being home — how she got there she does not know — getting her clothes into the washer and taking a shower. She collapsed into bed and slept.

The next morning, the neighbor across the way went to pull out her can and saw a large pool of blood on the street. Dismayed, she went for her husband, and when they opened the blood spattered can next to theirs they found papers with Margaret’s address.

Margaret awoke disoriented, to her neighbor holding her hand, promising everything would be OK, and to the wail of sirens as EMTs responded to a call for help from her good Samaritan neighbor.

An MRI at the hospital showed that Margaret had suffered a mini-stroke and had a broken nose.

As we sat in Margaret’s living room, she recalled for us what she saw when she first looked at herself in the mirror. She described a deep purple forehead, as if colored by a marker pen from mid-eyebrow to mid-eyebrow, up to her hairline. Both eyes were almost swollen shut and big purple bags bulged under them. Her face plant on the asphalt left her with a badly bloated nose and cheeks with purple streaks shooting down toward her chin. She had cuts under her eyes from her eyeglasses biting into her face when she hit the road.

Margaret explained that in the hospital when she first saw herself in the mirror she started to laugh. Let me repeat that, she started to laugh. She said she looked so funny, all she could do was chuckle.

I suspect this helps explain Margaret’s longevity. She is a sweetheart, kind, grateful and optimistic. She is always beautifully groomed, but her smile steals the show. Margaret lost her husband several years ago. They met and fell in love in college. He was an athlete, on the smaller side but agile and fast, and she was a cheerleader. Their marriage was the beginning of a lifelong love affair, and although they had heartbreaks, they never had a quarrel. Margaret misses Boyd terribly, but she doesn’t pine and mope. She knows she will be with him again for eternity. She loves life and family and friends. Every day is an adventure, and every day brings some new wonder because she faces the future with a hopeful, grateful heart.

One of the great themes in scripture is the Lord’s requirement to his disciples to be grateful. Hope, or optimism and gratitude, go hand in hand. Gratitude in practice breeds optimism, which breeds increased gratitude that breeds increased optimism … and on and on.

In 1833, the Mormons in Missouri were physically persecuted and driven from homes and property. As is human nature, many sought revenge. However, the Lord commanded them, “Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks” (see Doctrine and Covenants 98:1).

A recent study by University of Pennsylvania's Martin Seligman, Ph.D., and Gregory Buchanan, Ph.D., concluded that people who learn to maintain an optimistic attitude may not only avoid depression but can improve their physical health. Students identified as pessimistic participated in a workshop, learned to dispute persistently negative thoughts and gained skills to help ward off depression. Participants reported fewer health problems during the course of the study, took better care of themselves and thrived.

As is always the case, the Lord’s commands produce myriad blessings, some anticipated, some unexpected, but all certain to improve the quality of each individual’s life. Margaret’s optimistic, grateful heart has not only been a benefit to her but to all those who know and love her.

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