By Michael Strelcheck
It’s funny how everything gets better when the sun shines. After one of the harshest winters in recent memory, one which robbed the Midwest of a spring season, the warmth of the sun has returned. And, as always, with the warmth comes a change of attitude. The dormant earth springs to life, the birds sing with joy, and the air becomes fresh and sweetly fragrant. “Summer breeze – and the livin is easy.”
Being a life-long native of Wisconsin I’ve weathered the many moods of Mother Nature, but the beginning of this summer seems different. Call it a reaction brought on by severe “cabin fever” or perhaps a lack of quality winter TV programing, but I find my spirits abnormally lifted as May comes to a close. Maybe I’m experiencing a delayed “spring” reaction, or the winter has left me in a delusional state? I’m not sure. It’s hard to put my finger on it. But things seem different to me this year!
Being a rational person by nature I find my change of attitude a little perplexing? Looking around, I can’t say that things have changed all that much during the winter, nor can I find any concrete cause for my new found optimism. In fact, checking the local and national news, I can find a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t be optimistic. Communities are still struggling with the same old problems.
This fact makes my change in perspective a little unnerving! This summer, things that in the past bugged me, seem less bothersome. Like with the nice weather comes the dreaded ‘highway construction’ season, but this year it seems to me to be more positive, registering in my mind as the time of ‘highway improvements.’ The annual lawn clean-up and work, which has always been tedious, finds me happily humming along this year. Weird – but nice in a way.
Normally, summer in the Midwest tends to bring a frantic burst of activity with every precious weekend being packed with community activities. Psychologically everyone feels the pressure to get outside while the getting is good. That drive is even stronger this year given the fact that the good weather season will be at least three weeks shorter and that type of pressure adds to a community’s stress, which can lead to negative responses. Take, for example, a recent event in Seattle Washington where a young woman’s sleep was interrupted by a cancer charity run that was going on outside her apartment. Being awakened, in frustration she allegedly pelted supporters with trash, used cat litter and frozen chicken (which got her charged with assault and reckless endangerment). I guess she wasn’t feeling the love that morning! Maybe it’s just me.
After thinking about it for a while, I thought my improved attitude must be a result of a new found appreciation for sunshine! Sunshine always brightens a gloomy day so that must be the answer. Yes, the long winter starved me of light and has left me depleted. I know that science has found sunshine causes our brain to create a stress relieving chemical (melatonin) which helps our mood. But then, if that was true, all the Middle Eastern Cultures, who have abundant sunshine, would be hugging each other rather than fighting. Although sunshine is nice, and there may be a bio-chemical link in us to it, there’s got to be more going on.
There are subtle signs that things are improving. The economy is progressively getting better (even through the news media wants us to believe elsewise). And with those improvements there seems to be a new warmth to life that’s appearing. People in my community seem more engaged, friendlier, more interested in life and are talking about ways of making it better! Suddenly, it dawned on me. The warmth I’m noticing is a feeling, an increased sense of caring within others, as well as within me. I guess that’s why it took me awhile to find it, for it is emanating at an emotional level.
Taking this “epiphany” forward, I again looked out into the world to find evidence of such a possibility and found a number of examples. Here are just a few. Pope Francis, recently visited by the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, hosted a special spiritual meeting in the Vatican gardens to pray for peace in the war-torn Middle East. This unprecedented encounter was the result of the Pope’s surprising proposal during the pontiff’s recent visit to the Holy Land. Although this doesn’t change the situation between the warring neighbors it does reflect a new level of engagement. Another recent “change of attitude” has been demonstrated by the Chinese government where they’re now encouraging Beijing residents to be more polite to one another. The government asks that Bejingers dress properly, show grace in speech and manner and say “hello,” “thank you” and “sorry” more often. All nice sentiments, which may reveal a new level of caring appearing in that culture, for it’s said that a government psychologically reflects the collective will of its citizens.
I, for one, hope this is a not just a seasonal thing, but a new trend, for if people are feeling like they care more, that can lead to a state of perennial sunshine