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Smiling through the rain, laughing at the pain

by Ogi Overman

I hear my friends and colleagues talking about it all the time, this concept of living life on life’s terms. Some days I feel I have a pretty firm grasp on it, others I don’t have the first clue.

We all ride that rollercoaster of life, with its unpredictable ups and downs. But what do we do when it turns into a tilt-a-whirl on steroids, spinning seemingly out of control on an endless loop to nowhere?

A month or so ago I wrote probably the most depressing column of my entire life. Upon rereading it once it was in print, the dark, morbid tone shocked even me. It was, I suppose, one of those wrong-side-of-the-bed mornings when the light at the end of the tunnel is an onrushing freight train. Since then, by any objective measure, things have actually gotten worse – yet I feel better. So what gives?

Now, let me assure you, I’ve never been diagnosed as bipolar or manic-depressive, am not on anti-depressants and haven’t used any mind-altering substances since Reagan was in office (although I’ve thought about it a million times with this bunch we’ve got in power now). I’d like to think that most would consider me a rather genial chap, a bit flaky perhaps, opinionated but non-confrontational, not someone you’d mind sitting next to you at the ballgame (unless, of course you’re a Yankees fan). So again I ask myself, why has the oppressive fog seemed to have lifted, although by all rights I should be in a deeper funk than before?

Let’s run down the list, the negatives first. In the last week alone my brother’s company truck got stolen, taking with it his tools. Then, after he had replaced his tools, the company fired him. So now he has a set of brand new, expensive tools but no job on which to use them.

At the moment our kitchen is sealed off, the sink and cabinets detached from the wall, toxic mold growing as a result of a leaky pipe behind the wall. Naturally, our homeowners policy refuses to cover it, citing the insurance industry’s favorite phrase, “pre-existing conditions.” If it had burst all at once and flooded the house, they’d have covered it. Using that logic, I guess rather than wait for evidence, I should have ripped out the sheetrock periodically to check all the pipes for leaks, just in case. Jeez.

Finally and far most tragically, I found out a couple of days ago that a dear friend died of a drug overdose. He wasn’t supposed to die. He was supposed to get in a recovery program, get well, and get on with life. But he died anyway. The disease of addiction takes another good soul.

Mercifully, for every negative there is a positive counter. My brother has been knocking on doors and pounding the pavement. He is confident that with his skills and work ethic he’ll find another job before his cushion runs out.

Another brother and three great friends – two plumbing contractors, the other a carpentry contractor – are in the process of decontaminating the kitchen, removing the mold, replacing the leaky pipe, hanging new sheetrock, reattaching the sink and cabinets and cutting a new countertop. I hate to think what this job would cost retail, but my friends will charge only a small fraction of that. You can’t put a price tag on friendship, but I trust they know that there will come a day when I’ll be able to repay them in kind.

As for my departed comrade, his girlfriend asked me to help out with a service of remembrance next week, after the actual funeral. And of course I am happy to do anything I can to help.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s how this thing works. That karmic wheel we used to talk about in the old hippie days is still spinning. Comes around, goes around. Pay it forward. Do unto others. Pass it along. One good turn deserves another. Commit random acts of kindness. Do the next right thing. All those trite little clichés we giggle about are true.

I can’t, for instance, fully repay my friends for fixing my plumbing monetarily, but I can help another friend in need by officiating at her boyfriend’s service. I can’t do things directly to repay all the generosity shown Janet and me in her battle with MS, but surely I can do things to ease someone else’s pain. I can visit someone in the hospital, or give some canned goods to the Urban Ministry, or write a press release for a benefit concert for a musician without health insurance. Not because I am such a paragon of virtue, but because it makes me feel better, which eliminates my self-absorption, which lifts my depression, which allows me to face the day with a smile.

And where there’s a smile there’s hope.

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 am on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” Fridays at 6:30 am on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 pm on WMYV 48.

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