Al Batt: Sometimes attitude is all we can control

Published 8:03 pm Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


“I hate to complain about anything, but I love complaining about everything.”

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You hear things like that when the local Pessimist Club meets. The members are men more skilled at finding faults than any of the world’s greatest seismologists or geologists. The club motto is, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, say it twice.” Members practice the art of grump accumulation. Groucho Marx denied saying, “I’ve had a wonderful time, but this wasn’t it.” Pessimist Club members live by that statement. The only good politicians are the ones they’d voted for. They complain bad weather away. That doesn’t work, but they give it a shot. They strive to get a table near a waitress, get their exercise by spanking the bottom of a ketchup bottle and are accused of nibbling on nickels.

We’ve all been members of the Pessimist Club. We should tear up our membership cards because we’re better than that.

Barb Thompson was my classmate and has struggled to overcome that great burden. Barb lives in a building in New Richland, staffed 24/7 by medical professionals and trained caregivers. She lives there because of a disease called multiple sclerosis. Life can be a rough schoolyard. According to the Mayo Clinic, MS causes varied symptoms — including vision loss, pain, fatigue and impaired coordination. The symptoms, severity and duration vary with the individual. Some are symptom-free most of their lives, while others have severe chronic symptoms. MS has been Barb’s companion for years.

Barb has many things going for her. She’s nice, kind, intelligent, likable and has a wonderful attitude. She’d owned a restaurant offering powerful good food.

Barb didn’t fall off the truck on a sharp turn. She wasn’t on the roof eating an orange and sliding down on the peel, but she fell anyway.

She was in a wheelchair. She needs the chair due to the persistent disease. Barb reached for something and she fell. She couldn’t get back into her chair because she couldn’t get off the floor. She needed to call in the cavalry.

Barb had no alarms of any kind within reach. She wasn’t wearing one of those, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” things. But nothing messed with her mettle. What she had was an Amazon Echo on the table she’d fallen under. As you undoubtedly know, the Amazon Echo is a smart speaker and a voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant, which responds when you say “Alexa” or something sounding like “Alexa.” It provides weather information, makes to-do lists, sets alarms, answers questions, makes phone calls and plays music among other skills.

Her mother had warned Barb when she climbed, “If you fall out of that tree and break your neck, don’t come crawling to me.” Every mother said that. Perhaps because of that warning, Barb decided on another course of action. She told Alexa to play Ozzy Osbourne at full volume in the hopes it would attract the curiosity of a staff member who would come to her rescue. Ozzy might be the definition of deafening, but he didn’t summon aid. She tried the same with Metallica. No help appeared. Then she played Judas Priest, yet another screeching heavy metal band. Using loud music to draw rescuers was akin to trying to blow out a lightbulb. People walking past her room thought Barb had merely expanded her musical playlist.

She instructed Alexa to call her sister who contacted the staff and Barb was soon back in her wheelchair. She was little worse for the wear, other than bruises. Her smile remained intact.

Exactly 100% of us are aging. Houses become too big and medicine cabinets too small. Gravity doesn’t miss a trick. We try to be careful. I wear a protective helmet when clipping my toenails.

Everyone has ill-fitting days. We all need help, but something can’t drive us crazy unless we give it the keys. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Light tomorrow with today.”

Barb Thompson sets a splendid example. She takes the right step even when she can’t take a single step. Sometimes attitude is the only thing we can control. Whenever we want to complain, we should replace a gripe with something we’re grateful for. Barb is able to laugh at herself. Norman Lear said, “There’s nothing I believe more than this, that laughter adds time to one’s life.”

Barb is a friend and she is inspiring. If she finds herself in a similar predicament, I suggest she ask Alexa to play “Bagpipes for Beginners” at full blast.

Help would arrive promptly.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday and Saturday.