Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”
I have spent my life convinced that we inhabit the “friendly” universe that Albert Einstein refers to; that we live in a world full of people who, like me, do their best most days to strive for some measure of decency and happiness. However, over the years, my positive outlook has attracted the occasional detractor, someone who has appeared to take it personally that I have approached life from “the glass half full” position. One older friend of mine once said, “Len, your response to a pile of horse manure is, ‘Where’s the pony?’”
For those of you who might think that was a compliment, let me clarify that it was not. My inclination to look for the silver lining in a situation highly annoyed this woman and her silent judgment of me rang out loud and clear. I was one of those “rose-colored glasses” morons with more luck than sense. Her unhappiness was evident in many parts of her life, and not being a masochist, I elected to give her a wide berth. I soon headed off to Los Angeles – a decision of which she was highly critical.
The last time I saw my friend was when I returned to visit her after she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. As I walked into her living room with my husband and three daughters in tow, I saw her face brighten. “Everybody looks so healthy and happy,” she said. “I’m so pleased LA has worked for you.” I was shocked by her positive reaction; surprised that she seemed genuinely and truly glad rather than regarding me with thinly veiled contempt. However, I didn’t feel comfortable asking her what had brought about this change of heart – or attitude – towards me, and life in general.
To this day, I’m sorry I didn’t ask. I would like very much to know what transpired in my friend’s life to allow for that transformation from misery to peace. Perhaps because of her illness, she had begun to savor those momentary bits of happiness, which, in this case, was a visit from her long-lost friend. Perhaps she had stumbled upon a spiritual emollient for her wounds, such as meditation or prayer. Or maybe she recognized that by that time I had already lost two brothers to AIDS and another of my siblings was dying of cancer. Maybe knowing that I had in fact experienced suffering made me more human in her eyes. Whatever the case, her pleasure at seeing my family was undeniable. The resentment in her eyes was gone and had been replaced with genuine goodwill. We were able to instantly rekindle our earlier sweet friendship and I left feeling a sense of camaraderie and connection.
In today’s complex world, Einstein’s quote holds particular significance to me. His words serve as a reminder that we decide whether we believe the universe is friendly or hostile, and that conscious choice helps determine our view of the world and the people in it.
I will continue to choose to believe that the majority of people near and far want exactly what I want: to live life with dignity and a modicum of happiness. I will also remind myself that people (including me) are imperfect and we do the best we can every day. That is, and will have to be, good enough.
Perhaps that’s the truth my old friend came to realize towards the end of her life, which accounted for her newfound peace. Perhaps she stumbled onto grace and then shared that lovely gift with me.