Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Power of Positive Thinking

I remember as a kid, my mother having a book called, "The Power of Positive Thinking" written by Norman Vincent Peale.
But, my mother was not a positive thinker and quite frankly (and regrettably) neither am I.
In fact, I could probably write the book, "The Defeatism of Negative Thinking."
I have learned a valuable lesson over the past few days.  One that at first glance, might seem small and unimportant.
I didn't attend the annual pool and swimming awards party last night held by the NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation at Hamilton Fish Recreation Center on the Lower East Side.
That's because I didn't bother to count how many laps (and miles) swam this year and thus was not up for either a medal or tee-shirt and did not receive an invite.
This may sound (and is) a very trivial matter, considering the usual serious subject matter of this journal.
But, there is relevance and significance which I will get to later.
For the past four years, I had attended the pool parties and indeed they were events I very much looked forward to.  Each year, I won trophies and tee shirts.  And usually, I was able to invite a friend or two along.
But, last year was different.
Last year, two friends were on vacation the night of the party.  One friend was giving a dinner party and another had to work late that evening.
I ended up going to the pool party alone.
As matters turned out, I did not recognize anyone at the annual event which celebrates the swimming accomplishments of hundreds of swimmers from dozens of NYC pools.
But, everyone else seemed to be with friends or swimming buddies. 
People were seated at tables, enjoying conversation, food, drink and the beautiful warm, outdoor air.   Music played and there were several entertaining swimming exhibitions held before the actual awards ceremonies.
But, as brash and bold as I may be when confronting those either harming or harassing wildlife, I am painfully shy, awkward and timid in social situations where I don't know the people.
I was not comfortable walking up to a bunch of strangers seated at a table and introducing myself (or, more to my mind, "barging in.").
Fortunately, I was able to swim for a good chunk of the time. But, when coming out from the pool, I looked for an empty table to sit at and waited for my name to be called for a tee shirt and medal.
The wait seemed interminable as I felt embarrassed and nearly mortified to be sitting all by myself while everyone else was in celebratory groups  (I in fact, felt very much like a "loner goose" -- probably one reason I identify with them so much.)
Finally my name was called and I walked to the podium to receive the "gold" medal for most miles swum by a woman from Lasker Pool's night swim.
But, the medal was hollow in its meaning to me as there was no one to celebrate it with.
I could not wait to leave the Hamilton Fish pool party that night with my head held down somewhere between my arms, despite the medal and tee shirt in my hands.
Fast forward to this year.
I did not want to repeat the experience of last year, so quickly decided early this summer not to count laps and keep track of miles.  (Good example of avoidance behavior or "negative thinking.")
Everything was "fine" until the other night.
Before preceding, let me quickly say some things about swimming.
Swimming is primarily a "solitary sport" though quite often one sees people attending evening lap swims with buddies.
Since none of my friends are however, into swimming, I always go to the pool alone.
Except for those people with friends, most swimmers go to the locker room, change, shower and head out to the pool and swim.   The same thing when coming out of the pool.  Shower, change and leave. 
Usually, there is little or no communication among swimmers in the locker room.  Everyone quietly and respectfully does their own thing.
That is, unless there is some kind of problem.
The other night, one of the women had a problem.
She apparently couldn't remember which locker she had left her shoes in.  She thought someone might have stolen them.
"I am sure I left my shoes in this locker, but they are gone!"
"Its highly unlikely anyone here would run off with someone else's shoes." I said in effort to try and comfort the youngish, Asian woman.  "Did you check all the lockers nearby?  Perhaps you put them in a different one?"
"Yes, I have looked in all of the lockers.  But, my loafers have disappeared!  What am I to do?  I can't walk home barefoot."
"Check with the attendants," I suggested.  "Perhaps they checked empty lockers, found the shoes and put them in lost and found. Maybe there is a pair of cheap flip flops they can lend you to get home."
The young woman left and in a few minutes returned with a pool attendant. (We were all dressed by then.)
He was able to find the shoes in one of the top lockers.
"I can't believe I put them all the way up there!" the relieved young woman exclaimed.
"You're taller than you think you are!" I laughed.
A few minutes later, we were leaving the pool and the woman asked me, "Are you going to the pool party tomorrow?"
"Oh, no...I didn't count laps this year," I mumbled, surprised at the question.
"You won, last year, didn't you?" she asked, pressing on.
"Well, yes, but...." my voice trailed off.
"Do you have the time?" the young woman asked, bailing me out of my awkwardness.
"Ten minutes before nine." I answered, looking at my watch.
"Oh my God!  I am so late!  Supposed to meet a friend.  You should go to the party tomorrow night!  Maybe, I'll see you there?"
"Well, I have other plans, but hope you have a great time.  See you later," I smiled.  "Good night."
We then parted ways as I wanted to go and check on the ducks at the south side of Harlem Meer.
Walking away from the young woman, I realized she was the second place winner last year from Lasker Pool.
Perhaps I should have been more observant last year -- and this year.
But, most of all, I shouldn't have allowed a disappointing experience last year to determine decision for this year.
I realized the other night, that had I simply followed the usual routine, I would have known at least one person at the pool party this year -- even if none of my friends were able to attend.
Things can sometimes change in a moment.
Last night, I returned to Lasker Pool and enjoyed the usual swim, though in the back of my mind, I regretted not being at the pool party downtown as I had been for the past four years.
"The Defeatism of Negative Thinking."
Yes, indeed, I could write the book for this, unlike the best seller by Norman Vincent Peale so many years ago about the (very real) benefits of positive thinking.
So yes, a lesson over the past few days.
One, that despite all the setbacks, disappointments and very real, "lonely" despair associated with trying to fight for the maligned and slaughtered geese, I need to learn to apply and take forward:
No matter how bad or hopeless things look at a particular moment in time, it CAN change.  You have to believe that and you have to work towards that.  You cannot give in to negative and pessimistic thinking because that is only to ultimately become self-fulfilling prophecy.
I did not see any geese at Harlem Meer last night.
Once again, I missed their presence, beauty and vitality on the lake.
But, it doesn't always have to be this way.
The work starts today to change things for next year.  -- PCA

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