2014, Eeyore, & Silver Linings

E. H. Shepard, "Winnie the Pooh"

E. H. Shepard, “Winnie the Pooh”

I’ve been reading Winnie the Pooh and assorted A. A. Milne poems to my soon-to-be-three grandson and have been focusing on the character of Eeyore. That’s because it’s so easy to be an Eeyore these days, given the media’s penchant for feeding our pessimism. But just as Eeyore learns to find happiness in two failed birthday presents, so it’s possible to feel good about the year that is just about to expire.

I was reminded of this when watching a recent episode of Chris Hayes’s MSNBC show “All In.” Looking for silver linings in 2014, Hayes and his guests mentioned the continuing success of Obamacare, the remarkable drop in the crime rate, the rapid expansion of same sex marriage rights, and the accelerating economic recovery. Even some of the grim stories, like the Ebola epidemic, showed that the federal government has the ability to step up and handle crises. Meanwhile President Obama, rather than retreating to lick his wounds after the Democrats lost the Senate, appears to have picked up his game, what with a promising new agreement with China over carbon emissions; a breakthrough in diplomatic relations with Cuba; new pollution controls; and relief for the undocumented immigrant parents of American citizens.

Eeyore doesn’t look for silver linings. Here he is grumbling over the fact that no one has remembered his birthday:

Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
“Pathetic,” he said. “That’s what it is. Pathetic.”
He turned and walked slowly across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
“As I thought,” he said. “No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.”

And further on, in an exchange with Pooh:

“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
“Oh! Said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”
“Bon-hommy,” went on Eeyore gloomily. “French word meaning bonhommy,” he explained. “I’m not complaining, But There It Is.”

It is very easy to yield to this mindset if one spends all one’s time dwelling on the negatives. Think of the Eeyore birthday story, however, as offering a different way to approach life. Upon hearing of their friend’s unhappiness, Pooh and Piglet step up to the plate, as Americans often do, and determine to do something about it.

To be sure, their efforts come up short. Pooh absentmindedly eats all the honey that he is prepared to give Eeyore for a gift, and Piglet falls down and bursts the balloon that he is bringing. Our good intentions often fail in execution.

And yet, almost miraculously, Pooh and Piglet make the occasion memorable. Eeyore has received perfectly complementary gifts:

“Why!” [Eeyore] said, “I believe my balloon will just go into that Pot!”
“Oh, no, Eeyore,” said Pooh. “Balloons are much too big to go into Pots. What you do with such a balloon is, you hold the balloon—
And as Piglet looked sorrowfully round, Eeyore picked the balloon up with his teeth, and placed it carefully in the pot; picked it out and put it on the ground; and then picked up up again and put it carefully back.
“So it does!” said Pooh. “It goes in!”
“So it does!” said Piglet. “And it comes out!”
“Doesn’t it?” said Eeyore. “It goes in and out like anything.”
“I’m very glad,” said Pooh happily, “that I thought of giving you a Useful Pot to put things in.”
“I’m very glad,” said Piglet happily, “that I thought of giving you Something to put in a Useful Pot.”
But Eeyore wasn’t listening. He was taking the balloon out, and putting it back again, as happy as could be….

To be sure, pots and balloons could be read as symbols of political failure. Herbert Hoover promised a chicken (not honey) in every pot, only to witness instead the Great Depression. Eventually the air goes out of all those national convention balloons that cascade upon candidates, some of whose speeches could be described a hot air tricked out in bright colors.

But if even Eeyore can be happy at honest attempts to brighten up his life, then the rest of us should be willing to be more forgiving of our public servants when they are less than perfect. Many of them–perhaps even most of them–genuinely have our welfare at heart. Let’s resolve to stop throwing temper tantrums just because life isn’t always gaiety, song-and-dance, and here we go round the mulberry bush.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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