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A cure for the common cynic

January 28, 2012
Marshall Independent

Tom Cruise, Hollywood's best worst actor, said it best in "Jerry Maguire."

No, not the "You complete me" drivel, or the "Show me the money" mantra. I'm talking about when he declared to his love interest: "We live in a cynical world. A cynical world."

Saying it twice drives home his point, but this is hardly new information to any of us.

It's way too easy to be cynical in today's world, way too easy to drown in a sea of pessimism and ulcer-producing anxiety. It's also easy to say that life is too short to carry these feelings around. Yet I do.

My attitude is a by-product of my career. Ever met an editor who isn't a grumpy cynic, at times incapable of looking at the bright side or giving the benefit of the doubt? Or smiling? Neither have I.

Editors are besieged by bad news, angry phone calls from people reacting to something in knee-jerk fashion, sarcastic, mean-spirited emails and senseless, anonymous online comments posted by senseless, anonymous, evil people. A good week has an editor fielding one nice comment for every five bad ones. If you want all the ingredients for stress - at least in the world of journalism - there they are, get out your recipe card.

Antacids were created for editors.

It is because of this that I decided to coach my daughter's fourth-grade basketball team. No, I won't bore you with details of why I got into this coaching thing; I believe I've already covered that. This column isn't about coaching or sports, it's about innocence - something we all lose somewhere along the line - and how that innocence can either melt our hearts or make us love life again. And this column is dedicated to my team: Mariah, Brooklyn, Olivia, Gabby, Ali, Audrey, Cora, Ceara, and Carly.

These nine girls are a handful. They're at an age where Cheetos are a delicacy and listening is something you do when you're bored. If you tell them five things, you're lucky they remember three.

They are all smart, fun, outgoing, energetic, antsy girls who just want to have fun. Cyndi Lauper had to have 9-year-old girls in mind when she wrote that song. Did I mention energetic? I try to run that energy out of them at every practice, you know, wear them down, but it never works. They could run all night if there wasn't school the next day.

But it's not just how they act and how fun they are to be around that gives me so much pleasure in coaching them. As I found out this week, sometimes one little sentence that comes out of their mouths is enough to drive every last drip of bitterness and acrimony out of this practicing cynic.

First, I need to set the scene: For those athletes or former athletes out there, you probably know all too well about the running drill where you start at the baseline, run to the free throw line, run back to the baseline, then to half court and back again, then to the opposite free throw line and back, and finally to the opposite baseline and back. In Tracy, we call them "Scrappers," an homage to the school's nickname before Tracy paired with Milroy and became the Panthers.

P.S. The school needs to resurrect the Scrappers nickname and its bulldog mascot. Classic.

Anyway, during practice Tuesday night, one of the girls came up to me and posed a question: "Are we gonna do strippers tonight?" If this were a movie, you would've heard the needle scratching the vinyl and everything would've gone silent.

It was the funniest thing I had heard in five years.

Maybe 10.

Having come from the mouth of a cute, innocent kid and seeing the look in her wide eyes when she realized what she had just said, this particular slip-of-the-tongue brought tears of laughter to my eyes. Oh, she was embarrassed, but it was a good embarrassed. As she put her hands over her mouth, she giggled the way 9-year-olds do. I, on the other hand, nearly doubled over from laughter. At that moment, I wasn't a miserable cynic anymore. I was Scrooge on Christmas morning.

The moral of this story is clear. We're all cynics to some degree. All of us. We all face obstacles and fight to get through them to the point where we barely have enough energy to get out of bed the next morning. But there's a cure, you just have to look for it.

And sometimes, if you're lucky, it will find you.



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