April 12, 2015
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #378: Keeping It Positive
I am a firm believer in the necessity of staying positive, good over evil, joy in the place of sorrow, and all of that. Not empty words, mind you, of repetitive positivity messages mindlessly chanted as if something magical will transpire because of them. No, and I don’t mean living in an alternate reality, detached from the facts. I mean seeing life, with all of its imperfections, trials, and disappointments as a process that works impurities out of us. It is seeing the end result of God’s work in us that is the basis for true positivity. It is this that enabled Christ to face the horrific death before Him and gave Him joy as He considered the benefit to you and me.
Any elementary reading of my letters will immediately reveal that I am not suffering in prison as so many Christians are today in places like Pakistan and India, persecuted for their faith. I am not languishing in some hole, barely alive without essential sustenance. These reality checks make gratefulness easy, the necessary first ingredient to a life of positivity.
But beyond gratefulness for what I don’t have to go through and gratefulness for what I do have in my life (incredible family and friends!) I must also guard my mind from wishful thinking that can kill God-given joy. And lately, I’ve had to help a few others to guard their minds as well, so they stop corrupting mine. Let me explain.
Our first yard concert in December, taught me a lot. As someone who was a professional Christmas caroler for over ten years, there was no way I was going to perform in December without Christmas songs. Of course, none of the other groups in the concert even acknowledged it was Christmas, so our choir stood out even more. I knew we would have to really work at some fresh material if we were going to be playing for the next yard concert along with the rap group, R&B group, and hard rock group, since they think of us as a choir instead of a band.
Well, I found out recently that the other bands who had performed with us were preparing for another yard concert. We now have several original songs ready with a complete band, but we were not invited to perform at the upcoming concert. I know I could have talked to my boss, and he’d put my group in the concert (one group is doing 20 songs!), but I decided it was best to not do that. Instead, I’m choosing to be happy for the guys who will perform and be as supportive as I can be.
For starters, I’ve made myself available to do the monstrous task of creating and writing the passes like last time; hundreds of passes. And, I went to the other unit’s multi-purpose room to check out their new drum set and talk with some of the other music tutors.
My band, however, is not happy. They want to see this as a “slap in our face” or something, when it really isn’t. Our group does other things: we sing for religious events, graduations, and even the big upcoming Kairos four-day weekend will feature us in concert. I’ve asked the other music tutors for time on the band equipment to practice with my guys, and they’ve granted me the week before we are to perform in order to rehearse.
To some of my band members, this seems unreasonable, and they began complaining in one of our planning sessions with just a keyboard and guitars. On and on they went, bashing the other musicians and their supposed lack of teamwork.
I’d had enough of all the negativity and wishful thinking and finally hit my limit. I told the guys I forbade them to say ANYTHING of a negative nature regarding other music program participants while around me. I explained how those other guys are excitedly doing their best, and in fact, they are meeting the expectations of the prison leadership, who are pleased to see so much being done to promote music here. I pointed out how we get to do things that the other groups don’t, and we need to be grateful for all the blessings we do have instead of focusing negatively on others. “Not only does it do no good, it really makes you look weak,” I told them.
“But those guys are … ” One of the guys launched into details about the supposed injustices and inequities of the other musicians, and I nearly bit his head off.
“No, Not here. Not now. Not ever. Don’t.”
I’m no better than my guys; I just can’t handle negative talk that refuses to see any possible benefit from the experience, so I have to help them practice silence until they can think of positive things to say. So far, my mission is a success.
One recent way I chose to stay positive; my annual joke on my current cellie on April Fool’s day. The past three years, each cellie has been told by staff to pack up and get ready to ship out. This year was Duffy’s turn, and I gave him a little extra, preparing a fake memo with his name on a transpack list. Thanks to an officer with incredible acting skills, Duffy believed it. And, on the positive side of things, he didn’t beat me up when I revealed it was a joke.