By VALERIE SCHULTZ, Contributing columnist
"Life is 10% what you make it and 90% how you take it." -- Irving Berlin
Spring is the lovely pastel reward for living through the cold gray winter. It is the time of growth and birth and new life, of renewal and hope.
It is also an attitude.
Much of one's measure of contentment in life flows from one's attitude. When I was a kid, I thought attitude was a naughty quality, because whenever I was being bratty, my mother used to say, "Don't you take that attitude with me!" And indeed, an attitude can be a negative thing. A bad attitude can overlook a multitude of blessings, and can make us focus only on the more trying aspects of our lot in life. While no one's life is ever going to be completely happy and trouble-free, a positive attitude can accentuate the things for which to be grateful, and disregard the things that pretty much stink.
A springtime attitude, then, is one that bends us toward the sun, and that encourages us to welcome the potential for growth. As we grow older, our mindset is in danger of becoming ossified, of hardening into an unyielding opinion about how things used to be, or how things ought to be. Without a springtime attitude, we can become cranks. Our conversations begin with words like "In my day, we never . . ." or "Kids today don't . . ." With that kind of an intro, the following thoughts almost certainly are going to be neither helpful nor positive, nor perhaps even true.
Even the verb "to spring" connotes an enthusiastic attitude. We think of springing as a forward and upward motion, from a crouching stance to an explosive release of energy. We spring towards something promising. We spring into action. We spring surprises or ideas on each other, which may not necessarily be good, but we can always hope.
An attitude of spring is not dependent on the actual date. Every season, on the calendar or in life, can benefit from a dash of spring in our attitude. And our attitude forms us: "Weakness of attitude," said Albert Einstein, "becomes weakness of character." Without the renewal of spring, without the rethinking of the old and tired, without the refreshing of the soul, we become mired and moored in the past. Our brains become lazy, our outlook becomes narrower, as the lack of spring in our attitude winterizes our character into frost.
"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses," said Abraham Lincoln, a figure who certainly knew the power of a springtime attitude.
I often think of this shift in perception when I am visiting my mother. She now lives with a group of senior citizens in an assisted living facility, and the differences in attitude among her neighbors are almost physically visible. They are not a population in the pink of health, of course, but those with a springtime attitude seem to bear their infirmities with a lighter demeanor, and a bit of grace. They are socially engaged, and curious about new people and events. Those who have surrendered to winter for the rest of their lives are more inwardly focused, and quick to dismiss anything new. They are stingy with their eye contact and smile. They are quite certain, in the winter of their discontent, that they have already learned everything worth knowing. I can divide my mother's friends into figurative roses and thorns. My judgment is, of course, based on superficial signs, but I can almost feel a warmth of character emanating from those folks who have decided to greet each day with an attitude of spring, even though they are far from the springtime possibilities of life.
Sometimes, until the daffodils peek and the tulips bloom in spring, we forget the bulbs that were planted last fall. Our spirits rejoice to see flowers peeking where we're accustomed to frozen earth, and green shoots sprouting from branches we had gotten used to seeing bare. The physical spring is a reminder to keep a metaphorical spring in our attitude, no matter how cold life can be. In the yearly progression of seasons, spring is the one that keeps us young at heart. Spring is in the air: may it permeate us.