I have known all my life that I was cynical. I suppose many of those who know me best would agree, even though in all my years I’ve never once mentioned this. I am quite OK with talking about other strengths: I am witty, I am creative, I am humble (?) . . . etc. But for me to admit that I’m cynical? Well, that would be a negative, wouldn’t it? Here is a definition for cynical:
1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others;
2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others;
3. bittery or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
I mean, really. Why would I want to admit to everyone that I’m sneeringly distrustful? Contemptuous? Pessimistic? But I just did that, didn’t I.
While I don’t really see myself as pessimistic, I do believe I have a lifetime of distrust followed by keen contempt for things that just didn’t/don’t ring true to me. This self-reveal about my inner cynic came to me last night at about 2 a.m. I’ve been experiencing some insomnia for the past six weeks. Usually I spend these quiet minutes and hours rearranging furniture and hanging pictures in my immaculate (in thought) house. Sometimes I do menu planning or devise projects for my husband. For some reason last night took a crooked path to my childhood where I saw myself in vivid color as a five-year old cynic.
Janie: “Mother, is Santa Claus real?”
Ruth: “Why do you ask?”
Janie: “Because I don’t think anyone can drive through the air to every kid’s house in one night and get out of the sleigh, go down the chimney, drop off gifts, go back up the chimney, get in the sleigh and mush on.” (OK, at five I didn’t know the word mush.)
Ruth: “Well, honey, you are right. Who do you think Santa is?”
Ruth: “You are right. Now please don’t tell your brother.”
Janie, with cynicism boiling up in her throat like acid: “The Easter Bunny?”
Janie: “The Tooth Fairy?”
At this, Janie turns and goes to her room to sit in her little rocking chair and ask herself why people who propose to love her could have fleeced her like this. The dishonesty! The shame! The birth of cynicism.
Three years later, after several years of perfect Sunday School attendance followed by pre-baptismal classes, the following conversation occurred.
Janie: “They keep telling me that this is the ‘one true church.’ And if you aren’t baptized in this one, you might go to a lesser glory. Is that true?”
Ruth: “Yes. That is what we believe.”
Janie: “What about the aborigines? They might never-ever hear of us!”
Ruth: “Ask your grandpa.”
At the time my grandfather was an apostle in the denomination, meaning he was among the top 20 honchos of the world church. He would have been the expert to answer this, but my vocal chords were paralyzed by cynicism and I simply never asked. I already knew what I believed. After all, I WAS 8.
At around the same time I had another theological discussion with my mother.
Janie: “Don’t we believe that God is all powerful? God can do anything?”
Ruth: “Yes, honey. We surely do.”
Janie: “Then how can he have a crazed angel running amok all over ruining peoples’ lives? Why doesn’t he just smite the devil?” (OK again, I didn’t know smite or kick his ass. I probably said get rid of him.)
Ruth: “Ask grandpa.”
I adored my mother, yet I realize many of my early cynical moments were at her expense. I was born a night owl. At least I believe we are born-in to being night people versus morning people. Since I was a sleepy-head, my mother would recite: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” First of all, I wasn’t a man. Second of all, I can attest after decades of living in the morning-person’s modus operandi, I am still neither healthy, wealthy nor wise.
A lot of my cynical moments came at the dinner table in the guise of well-meaning advice from my parents. You will note that by this time my cynical self no longer felt that any of these ridiculous things deserved a reply. [So I thought.]
“Janie, eat your carrots. They’ll help you see at night!” [Hello, I’m a kid, not a kitten.]
“Janie, eat that spinach. It will make you strong.” [Really? I’m a girl. I don’t have that much testosterone.]
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” [Then why does he take me for those annual shots?]
“Eat the crusts of that sandwich. It will make your hair curly.” [Then why, oh why, did you give me that Toni permanent that left me with a white-girl’s fro for half of 5th grade?]
“Chocolate will give you pimples!” [Oh well. I’ll take the zits.]
In spite of this inner cynic, as an adult I’ve still made some grievous mistakes about trusting people who I blindly assumed had my best interests in mind. I’ve taken the word s of people as their bond, only to find that I should have gotten it in writing. [I thought they were my friends?] It is interesting that once you’ve ruled out the devil’s existence, you tend to think people are a teensy bit more trust-worthy than you might have if you believed that Satan was lurking around every corner using your friends to trick you.] I’ve been up-ended, hurt, beaten down, bruised, lied to, and stomped by people I trusted. I’ve railed, cried, cursed, and exploded over those hurts. I’ve also consumed a lot of medicinal ice cream in the name of healing.
But at 2:15 a.m., after all these thoughts spun through my head, I realized that maybe—just maybe—my inner cynic has receded somewhat. And I think that’s a good thing. After all, I’m someone’s grandma! I should begin to get sweet and mellow and wise rather than harsh and cynical and suspicious. And I can’t help but cite some recent findings that put to rest some past lapses: chocolate is good for me; red wine is good for me; nine hours of sleep is good for me. Hurrah! I think I shall indulge in all three so I can live to be 100.
But in the meantime, until my mellowing is complete . . . please don’t tell me that people shouldn’t marry whomever they choose (in spite of gender, age or race). Please don’t tell me political things that folks really know nothing about . . . even the president has advisors. Please don’t talk to me about stewardship of the earth unless you are recycling. And for goodness sake, don’t talk to me about peace and justice until you are living it.
You see, I don’t want my inner cynic to emerge. You won’t like me when she does.