This is the season of good cheer, so it is said. But even at this supposedly buoyant time of the year, it begins to seem that too much cheer and uplift are dangerous things. One must beware of sounding too positive, especially if one is in what is called the writing game, since there always is a curmudgeon or two out there just waiting to scowl at expressions of good will.
A few days back, for example, I was so bold as to write an upbeat piece that spoke of several bright happenings here and there. It seemed pleasant enough, certainly nothing to give offense, and it read like a welcome antidote to all the gloom and fretfulness about Kuwait and Third World debt and all that.Not long afterward, however, when I met a retired friend for lunch, I was taken aback when he laced into the piece as insufferably upbeat. On the very day it was published, as it happened, he had encountered an assortment of misfortunes. He is anything but a sourpuss; yet, glowering in his temporary pique and frustration, this friend had been in no mood to have his spirits elevated.
Maybe he was trying to remind me that most journalism is supposed to deal only with trouble.
This is the kind of thing we inky wretches deal with as a steady diet every day of the week. We habitually get along by looking askance, looking under rocks and looking for trouble. No topic is too trivial to be labeled a crisis. Once elevated to crisis proportions, it thereby warrants lengthy analysis or indignant denunciation.
Even in the news business, however, there can be such a thing as being too determinedly grim - too apocalyptic, too awash in fears, tensions, perils, sorrows and other varieties of stress and fretfulness. One could, if so moved, write deeply grieved epistles for months about the prospect that Cape Cod will sink beneath the waves in 5,000 years or so; or the risk that out of every 100 million Americans, 17.3 people are likely to suffer ingrown toenails before the age of 90 if they eat less than 200 grams of yogurt each day.
One can wrestle with such worrisome visions for only so long before the spirit rebels and insists on a change of pace.
It is then that one can be tempted by other fare and risk an occasional foray into brighter themes. There is the news that American teenagers last year donated 1.6 billion hours in volunteer service, and there is the peach-colored light that glints through a wooded grove early on a late-autumn morning. One could mention striking advances in medical science that are helping to speed ailing friends toward recovery.
There are pay telephones that work, firewood logs that split when the ax first bites, shirts that come back from the laundry unstarched, cab drivers who smile and economists who see light at the end of the tunnel.
One could go on in this vein, relating glints of good cheer that are glimpsed all around; but there also can be too much of a good thing. The voice raised in celebration may sound like a voice that tempts the fates - or like complacency, which is almost as dangerous. This may be why, more often than not, that we fall to discussing air pollution, budget deficits and Saddam Hussein - and tend to set the good news aside for another time.