Thursday, September 23, 2010

Face It

We become what we think about.

Fifty years from now our faces will reveal our secrets.







What do you think about? I got an email one day from a woman who reads my blog. She said she was raised on lemons instead of lemonade, and asked, "Can you learn to be optimistic, or do you have to inherit it?" In answer I wrote this post called:


I both learned and inherited optimism from my dad. He was consistently positive and hopeful, and he looked for the good in others. I always felt like I was smart, talented and unique because he told me I was. His faith in my abilities kept my self-esteem healthy. Dad had a pep talk for every occasion and I learned them all by heart. By the time I was an adult, being optimistic was a natural part of my personality. It's a trait I've needed often.

Dee and I started out with nothing but hope. A vital part of our relationship is to buoy each other up—we count our blessings and reflect on great memories—when troubles come. Balancing on the teeter-totter of reality requires one of us to be up when the other is down, and we can tell when it's our turn. All seven of our kids are upbeat, cheerful and confident: it's part of our heritage to see the glass as 3/4 full and find the good in every situation.

I know I was lucky to grow up in an atmosphere of optimism. My dad reminded me often that faith (in myself, and in God's willingness to help me) would achieve miracles. He taught me that faith and fear cannot coexist, and that fear, doubt and worry were to be banished. Although he had his personal fears, they were overcome by his faith. He took risks, thrived on challenge, and lived positively.

Dad taught himself to be this way; early struggles haunted him. He grew up poor. His beloved older brother was always sick, and died at 18. The strain sapped all the joy from his parents for years. One of dad's favorite stories was how excited he was the day the store repossessed all their furniture and the kids skated in their socks through the empty rooms. But he always remembered how his mom sat on the porch steps and cried as her lovely possessions were hauled away. Eventually they lost their home and had to move in with another family for a while during the depression.

Dad (in the glasses) and his brothers, about 1933.

Dad served in WWII and came home seriously ill. It took him three months in a hospital to recover. When he'd joined the army, he had neglected to officially drop out of the university. After the war he started school again with a whole semester of failed classes on his transcript. To qualify for Optometry school earned straight A's for three years to raise his GPA to the required level. Born with cataracts which impaired his vision most of his life, he decided life would be better if he viewed it through rose-colored glasses.

When I was seven Dad almost died of pneumonia. My mom prepared mustard plasters and tried to keep us quiet, while he laid in bed for weeks worrying about our future. That's when he first read the book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. Knowing my dad, I'm sure he was thinking in literal terms when he saw the title. But the concepts he learned made him wealthy in another way that became my most treasured inheritance. He discovered the secret of positive thinking.

Everybody who knew my dad remembers him preaching this good news. Assimilating it into his character was the goal of his lifetime. He changed his attitude and it changed his world.

Dad, at his best!

It is absolutely possible to learn optimism.
It's also possible to inherit it.
And from my viewpoint,
it is positively essential to have it.

Sheri Dew said, "Ultimately we become what we give our hearts to. We are shaped by what we desire and seek after. Fifty years from now we shouldn't be too surprised at what we have become. Our desires are what motivate us and we become what we set our hearts on. Our face will reflect who we are."

The Great Stone Face, a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, tells about a village overlooked by a massive stone cliff that resembled a man's face. An old legend said that "someone will be born hereabouts who will look just like the Great Stone Face, and he will be the noblest person of his time."

A little boy in the village named Ernest was especially attracted to the Old Stone Face. He studied it with boyish admiration while he walked to school each day, and saw intelligence and goodness as he wondered when the man would come.

A famous philanthropist came to town, and Ernest thought he might be the champion, since he was so generous, but he looked nothing like the stone face. Then an important politician visited and Ernest thought that surely this honorable leader was the hero. But he didn't bear a resemblance to the craggy mountain either.

Ernest watched the faces of returning soldiers and scholars for signs of the courage and wisdom seen in the face. Meanwhile, he worked hard on his farm and was respected by his neighbors for his honesty and decency.

Years passed and though Ernest became an old man, he never ceased to study the Old Stone Face. But no one ever came to the village bearing its image. One evening when he was sitting with a neighbor on the porch, the neighbor looked to the distant mountain and then fixed his gaze upon his old friend as he sat in his rocking chair. "Ernest," said the neighbor, "You are the Old Stone Face!"

Amy 1976

In youth our face reveals our genetics.

Someone at 60

With age we get the face we deserve.


Lora said...

Thank you for posting this. A nice reminder of optimism is just what I needed this morning.

kenju said...

Think and Grow Rich was mr. kenju's bible when he first started in business.

I am always optimistic and looking for a silver lining, but there is a paradox. In repose, my face looks as if I am mad. The corners of my mouth turn down and if I don't consciously turn them up - I look mad,sad or very sour. But I'm not.

Katie H said...

I love this. And needed it this morning, too.

Thanks so much for saying just what I needed!

The Grandmother Here said...

I LOVE your pictures. You must have spent forever collecting them, but... I have a problem with "someone at 60." I'm almost 60. Do I look that old? It's part of my body image problem. I can't believe that tubby old woman in the mirror is really me. Please look inside for the real me.

polly said...

a wonderful reminder of lessons taught and lessons learned by our dad. the lessons i learned from dad have certainly got me through life and many problems that i have faced. the trick to positive thinking is that if you weren't lucky enough to be raised on it like we were, you have to want to learn how to be positive.

mama jo said...

love this post...everyone needs a drop of optimism!

Sarah said...

Right now I feel my face will reveal stress when I am 80. I sure hope that it is just a phase and my face will reflect hope.

Marie said...

Wonderful! Love it!

Susan Adcox said...

This is a fantastic post. I read a lot of blogs, and the ones I enjoy the most focus not on the problems that we all encounter, but on the joys to be found in life. Thank you for reminding me that "seek, and ye shall find."

Alisha Stamper | Photographer said...

great post! its got me thinking, and explains WHY it is that i love the faces I do!

Lydia said...

Marvelous post and very interesting blog! I found you just now when I googled to find out about the quote that says we get the faces we deserve after 50. Still looking for the quote. But had to stop and read and say hello.

(if your specialty is remembering, then the word verification is really something: "imemba"!)