There are 388 ways to look at life. This was revealed to me years ago by a wise old Turkish woman. She said to me, “For two dollahs, I will tell you how you, sir, should manage your life.” I gave her the two dollahs. She placed her hand on my forehead and closed her eyes. A minute later she told me, “Your life will be a battleground. It will be mostly in your head. You must build a citadel there to keep from going nuts.”
I took her advice. I built (and am still building) a citadel of useful ideas to guide me. Here are a few.
1. Be patient. Help is on the way. Stay calm. Calmness is contagious.
2. Assemble faithful allies. Most of them will be people. Others will be books. Some will be dogs, cats or a pet rat named Bugs.
3. Never play poker with a stranger named Doc. Don’t eat lunch at a diner named “Mom’s Place.”
4. Seek humor. In a dark hour, picture Dick Nixon and Jimmy Carter — both of them roaring drunk and locked in the same room. Guess who would kill — or out-talk — the other guy first.
5. At whatever cost, keep music close by. Record your own “Suicide Prevention Suite” on your iPod. For openers, include Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and a triumphant chorale singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Such sounds have persuaded many would-be bridge-jumpers to reconsider.
6. “If you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain about anything.” Those words were spoken by Eddie Rickenbacker, who spent 21 days floating in the Pacific on life rafts with other servicemen during World War II. They are words to remember when you feel your good luck chain has run out.
7. Sheer defiance can do wonders. When a big lie (such as “I’ll never make it”) invades your mind, sit still for 20 minutes. One by one, count the obstacles, large and small, that you have conquered in past years. Then rise, point your middle finger skyward toward that huge fraud called Fate, and say, “I’m ready for you, pal. What took you so long?”
8. Don’t spend one minute wondering what people think of you. You’ll never know. You may think you do, but you won’t. One reason for that: people are too busy thinking about themselves to be bothered with you. Do this: smile at everyone you know. Half of them will be pleased; the rest will go crazy wondering what you’re up to.
9. When all seems lost, find a mirror. Look in it. There you will see the person most likely to give you what you need.
10. Do not fear death. At the very least, accept its coming. You want a nightmare? Just picture this: never dying. Ever. Just getting older, more wrinkled, slower of mind, decrepit — all that wonderful stuff.
11. “What is my purpose in life? What is life’s meaning? Doesn’t God intend for everyone to find a special role? Why was I born?” Answer: Beats me.
My opinion: life is mostly a crap shoot. Ninety percent of our lives was and is out of our control. But the rest is up to us. You can’t predict tomorrow or your next hour. But you’re the boss for the next 10 minutes or so. And you can do a lot in that time.
The foregoing notions have been helpful to me, but I don’t assume they’ll fit your life. I merely suggest you construct your own citadel. If or when dark days come, what’s inside our heads can be our first line of defense.