"And so then all the children started to clap. We clapped very hard and very long. My palms hurt and even started to bleed I clapped so hard."
Many years ago, I delivered this line while sitting on a sofa in my bathrobe in front of a dinner theater audience during a presentation of Christopher Durang’s ‘dentity Crisis, a sort of off-beat art house production involving the emotional unraveling of a girl named Jane, whom I portrayed in the drama. At the root of my character’s disintegrating mental health was a particularly bad staging of Peter Pan she attended in her youth.
Among sundry other irregularities, the production adhered to a grim interpretation of the “clap to save Tinker Bell” scene, whereby the audience was informed that they had failed to cheer loud enough and had caused Tinker Bell to succumb to an untimely demise. Jane, so the story goes, was never quite the same.
Regular readers probably won’t be surprised if I admit to a certain level of identification with my character’s disappointment. Doesn’t the impossible become probable if you just believe hard enough? Can’t you hope and pray and sweat and cheer your wildest dreams into reality? I always thought so.
Why, in recent weeks alone, you’ve witnessed my unshakable confidence in a Bronx World Series. You’ve been on hand as I’ve sown September seeds in full anticipation of sidestepping blooms as I string my Christmas lights.
And that’s just the small stuff.
When my first, independently published YA novel failed to climb to the top of the New York Times best seller list, I was stunned. Oprah didn’t even call.
It only gets worse from there. I pretty much go through life expecting the blind to see, the lame to walk, and mountains to move on a routine basis. I not only believe in the impossible—I’m scoping it out at every turn.
Perhaps Hollywood is to blame, or maybe I’m more of an optimist than most people realize. Whatever the case, I spend a whole lot of time feeling more than a little disillusioned—which could be why more people don’t immediately peg me as an optimist.
I think the hardest lesson I’ve encountered thus far in the curriculum of life is that there are outcomes that can’t be changed no matter how much we clap and cheer. The team doesn’t always pull through in the clutch. Some books don’t even become sellers, let alone best ones. Some seeds don’t grow (although my sunflower is holding on—albeit in need of a pep rally, or, failing that, some Miracle Grow.)
Sometimes the most healthy, practical, and even spiritual thing we can do is to simply embrace what is.
And, more often than not, what is is usually pretty good.
Sure, it might look like a mess from where you’re sitting. Chances are, you’re reading this post from a cramped cubicle in a dingy office. Perhaps you’re trolling the internet out of sheer boredom, clutching the metaphoric scraps of disfigured dreams.
Me? I have a fridge full of decaying leftovers, a schedule of classes I don’t really like, an attic full of orphaned books, and a bathroom that’s been under construction for over a year. I’ve procrastinated on a project and slacked off on my exercise plan. Mouse traps surround the perimeter of my house.
A far cry from a six-figure advance and a New York book tour? You bet. But you know what? It’s a wonderful crisp October morning and I get to work at home today, surrounded by my silly cats and my demanding dogs. I’ll get to spend some time with my kids today, and my friend, Lori, is threatening a visit. The upheaval in my bathroom reminds me that my husband did a lot of good work this weekend. And the coffee this morning is reasonably good, if not quite superb.
Best of all? I’m still here to clap and cheer. Life is good.