I’m one of those people who gets called “Pollyanna” from time to time. I had a notion of what that meant, but decided to check it out… so I read the 1913 novel, Pollyanna. I loved it.
One of my older neighbors who had been a child when the book was popular told me that Pollyanna gave people so much hope and inspiration that “Glad Clubs” formed all over the country. At Glad Clubs, adults applied what Pollyanna’s fictional father taught her–how to discover something to be glad about in the midst of something you’re sad about.
It really bugs me that years later someone twisted Pollyanna’s gift of infectious optimism into a perversely negative connotation. Now people say with scorn, “Don’t be such a Pollyanna.”
Well, THIS I believe: What the world needs now is MORE, not less Pollyannas.
Pollyanna’s character is neither blindly optimistic nor without struggle. She simply looks for blessings in the face of her many adversities and seeks goodness in people—even her most crotchety community members.
Ok, ok… so she’s just a fictional character. How could anyone really rise above the seemingly insurmountable challenges she faces in that novel? I know one who did: my father.
Dad was a hardworking, caring, and compassionate man known by his friends as “Honest Abe.” He was a model of positive thinking. In fact, because of his optimism, I knew nothing about his grueling childhood until in my thirties when his sister revealed the horrors.
Apparently, after my father lost his mother to tuberculosis at the tender age of three, he was placed in an orphanage. Learning of his abuse in foster homes, his eldest sister begged their father to allow little Abie to return home, vowing that she would take responsibility for raising this youngest of five children.
In his twenties, my father went to war. On the front lines of WWII, he witnessed the horror of death as friends fell to enemy bullets. He ended his tour by liberating Dachau. Recently and for the first time, I saw photos he had taken of skeletons piled high outside the crematorium. I can only imagine how these images were emblazoned into his memory. He never spoke of it.
Before and after the war, dad worked long hours, seven days a week helping his father on the family farm. Not once did I hear him complain about his life.
Dad had plenty of excuses to act like a victim; instead, he chose to act like Pollyanna. Perhaps because of his struggles, he appreciated more fully every moment of life, his family, nature, learning, giving.
My “Pollyanna” father was my greatest mentor. He showed me the power of bringing out the best in others and the gift we give to those we touch with this power. So the next time I’m called Pollyanna, I believe I’ll say, “Thank you!”
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