For many years I drove a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway every evening on my way home, and would regularly come upon scenes matching the opening photo. I felt very blessed, of course, and in my imagination, dark clouds partially obscuring the glory of the sun were a metaphor. It symbolized, for me, that the sun is always shining, somewhere, even if hidden temporarily by shadows. I can trust that the darkest and most oppressive cloud may tease the sun and hide its healing rays, but never for long.
Never for long.
My family experienced a flurry of shadowy intrusions recently – a close relative was hospitalized with a serious heart issue and I was too far away to lend on-site support. Prior to hospitalization, family members had urged the relative to go to the doctor but were put off. It began as a case of food poisoning that lingered way too long leading us to think it might be the stomach flu or virus that needed to run its course. Yet, after almost 3 weeks, the relative did not get better; in fact this person continued to get worse to the point of becoming short of breath.
Our family decided to exert a bit of robust intelligent disobedience (we were not going to be rebuffed again). From 508 miles away, I made a call and gently but firmly stated that a doctor visit would not hurt at this point. I was met this time, thank goodness, with a weakly uttered “okay”. The primary care physician took an EKG and immediately sent the reluctant patient to the ER where a hospital stay of 5 days was required. Fluid was gathering around the lungs and the heart rate was a dangerous 150. Had the relative not gone into the hospital, a major heart attack or stroke would have been the next outcome since the diagnosis was a serious atrial fibrillation that was causing shortness of breath. The heart was working too hard.
The worst of thoughts and worries had blurred out the light of my mind as black clouds cover a glorious sun, and I thought my relative was going to die. However, the outcome was a recovered patient and very relieved family members and friends. Phew, that bullet was dodged and life would go forward!
The speaker had participated in intensive training with a personal guide dog and the two of them worked, lived and ate together 24 hours a day for two straight weeks. During the talk that centered around the “secrets of guide dogs”, the woman mentioned a term I had not heard before but immediately was drawn to: intelligent disobedience. She gave an example: should she walk down a street and feel 99.9% confident that it’s safe to enter the cross walk but her guide dog freezes and won’t let her move another inch, it may be due to the fact that the faithful companion sees a danger coming. It could be a vehicle running a red light or speeding around a corner.
The guide dog has deliberately ignored commands and exerted intelligent disobedience.
I embraced that term right away as one would an old, trustworthy friend. I felt it described my life these days as I discard, reject and rebel against things that cause me undue angst, stress, or anxiety. I disobey anyone or anything that encourages division, discord and divide and conquer strategies. I practice detachment for my own well being and sense of inner peace. This makes me a happy contrarian… I say no to many things, but yes to the things that count.
“I am the keeper of my own mood and attitude; I don’t have to be victim. I am powerless over other people, but I can adjust my part in it. I can choose happiness and keep my peace. Today, I will choose to keep my peace.” (Steve R, The Alanon Forum Magazine, May 2019)
It’s interesting how that term “intelligent disobedience” captured my imagination. I nursed the thought for a month that it deserved a blog and here I am, better late than never. I came across another example of it. My 12-year-old grandson Luke recently chose to modify a school assignment. He was asked to identify two famous people that he would have as parents if he could. A classmate picked Taylor Swift and a NBA basketball star (I cringed when I heard this).
My independent and spirited grandson dismissed the premise of the assignment, and said he would pick his own parents because they believed in him and loved him unconditionally; famous parents would be off on tour constantly or doing the things that keep them in the limelight. Why would Luke want famous parents when his own parents are noble and worthy individuals themselves? This incident sparked discussion between Luke’s father and me about the sickness of celebrity culture and also the subtle psychological message this school assignment was giving: your parents aren’t good enough; the famous are worthy of our day dreams, hopes and wishes. We’re happy contrarians – we reject external distractions that demand we pay attention to chaos in order to focus on what’s real and important: family and the health of our souls. Just this morning I had a phone conversation with my 88 year old Mother who was upset over a news story. I said “Mom, let not your heart be troubled. Strengthen your connection to God.” She agreed and added, “I send up prayers all the time to my late husband Ron and my beloved Grandma Grace.” That’s the spirit, Mom, that’s the spirit.
My son Ryan and I also talked about the pressure there is on families to spend extravagant amounts of money on amusement parks and such; instead he and his wife take the family to the mountains where bike riding, hiking, camp fires and fishing don’t cost an arm and a leg.
He engages in intelligent disobedience against glitzy trends and says the most beautiful spots on earth do not require breaking the bank for admission tickets. Often, breathtaking natural beauty, which Ryan calls God’s amusement park, is available for enjoyment and exploration in our own towns and states. Here is where a happy contrarian likes to hang out… it soothes their ruffled feathers!
To maintain sanity and serenity, there are two go-to prescriptions for happy contrarians that I’ve been following of late. They are:
1 I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.
2 Do I need to be right or do I want to be happy.
I’m careful about my choices and why not? I’m 65 years old and I want this late phase of my life to be one centered on peaceful existence, within and without. Is it possible every single day? No. Life isn’t perfect; my responses and attitudes are not perfect every day, but I do the best a happy contrarian can do, and for now, that’s enough.
On good days, golden light breaks through the shadows and brings with it clarity and luminescence to brighten the mind and lighten the heart, and I find myself, gratefully, absorbed in deep peace and contentment. Aah, it feels good to be a happy contrarian who exerts intelligence disobedience when it is called for!