I was driving on a rain-swept road with one genuinely depressed, teenage son. I forget just what it was all about, but as I recall, our son seemed to have ample reason for his gloom. Things were definitely not going well, and nothing I could do or say seemed to lighten his dejection.
How could I reach out to him? I cast about for something, anything, to say. What had helped me when I'd felt disheartened?
I looked across the fields to where a group of buildings rose in the distance. The tall towers of Techny, which had housed a religious order until recently, had been built at the turn of the century and were as much a part of the landscape as the Navy base airfield and the "S"-curved road we were on.
As the windshield wipers flicked across the car window, I had an idea. I glanced at my son and began to talk.
"Sometimes the very way we look at things can change our attitude toward them," I said. "Lots of times things happen to us that we can't control; what we can control is how we react to them. We can choose to let them take over our every waking thought and make us miserable, or we can get on with life."
I gestured at the weather outside. "It's a pretty crummy day out there," I said. "Now, I could just look at the rain and the gray skies and find the whole thing depressing. Or I could look over across the bare fields to the buildings of Techny rising in the distance.
"Y'know," I said, "when you really look at the scene, at the gray, majestic towers in the misty rain, it's beautiful. The choice is mine; I can concentrate on the gray day's discomfort, or I can see the beauty before me."
I darted a glance at my son. He felt my look and ducked his head. "Yeah, Mom."
But in my desire to reach out to him, I couldn't leave it there. "No matter what, you can choose to be aware of the beauty and order of this world we've been given," I told him. "And if you'll try, I can promise things won't ever seem quite as bad."
"Yeah, Mom," he said.
I stopped then, aware that I'd embarrassed him with all this earnest advice.
But then he spoke into the small silence, "It's OK, Mom. I see what you're saying."
So that was it. I said no more, and whatever was wrong eventually righted itself. Then a few months later, our youngest clumped into the house, tossed his books on the couch and, brow furrowed, charged into the kitchen to raid the refrigerator.
"Something wrong?" I ventured.
He muttered an unintelligible grumble.
"Want to talk about it?"
"Nah." He gave me a slightly distrustful glance. "Well, OK. But it's no big deal. I mean, you don't have to do the 'misty towers of Techny' thing this time, OK?"
I stared at him and burst into a whoop of surprised laughter, and after a minute he joined me. I don't know if we ever got around to talking about what had upset him. I only know that a new phrase had entered our family's lexicon. Now, when we share a distress or grievance, we can categorize it.
Is it minor, is it average, or is it big- time, one that requires appreciating "the misty towers of Techny"?
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society