a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, February 6, 2009

Big Arn, this one's for you

“Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
-Mark Twain.

By Amanda Gillooly

Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is a man who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I’m afraid with every headline detailing a global economic meltdown, of families losing their homes and jobs, and of people without belief in their government, their employers and themselves – and I fear the biggest loss of all is that of hope.

And while people look to our newly elected president for that hope, I’m just now beginning to realize that while Mr. Obama has the ability to share solace, it’s an emotion that’s always fleeting, at best.

No, times like these need more than calm – more than empty assurances that somehow, someway, we’re all gonna make it out of this economic crisis alive and well.

So I don’t look to Obama. And I don’t look to the financial prognosticators. And I don’t believe any number of charts and figures will help quell the anxieties that have been gnawing at my insides.

I look to my own personal hero – a man who’s long gone from this world but whose spirit still lingers. Even though he died Nov. 3, 1998, there’s not a day that goes by without him crossing my mind. Well, all of the minds of us who knew him.

Everyone should have a Big Arn – someone whose love for life outlived it.

His real name was Arnold Sales, and like the best of them, he passed away far too soon. I’ve always been convinced that perhaps besides the Dalai Lama, Mr. Sales may have known the secret to life.

His ever-present smile made others pale in comparison. His was beautiful and mysteriously confident. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about smiles like his. He said they only come around once or twice in life, and he’s right. When he smiled, there was always a warmth that seemed to overtake you. And no matter what you were feeling –anxiety, sadness, unbridled grief – you began to feel curiously that nothing might be so bad that there isn’t time for a laugh.

And despite his financial status (he and his lovely wife owned their own business and did very well for themselves and their wonderful family) Mr. Sales didn’t give a damn about the cost of anything. I think now it was because he knew it was the value of a thing that mattered.

And what he valued most, I think, was humor. To Big Arn, the best jokes came out of dark moments. And he taught me, if no one else, that even in those darkest moments, a person had to be nice.

I understand from his family (of which I am an honorary member) that the tag line for the store, “It’s nice to be nice” was a sort of running joke with Big Arn. He would tease his girls and say silly things like, “It’s nice to eat rice” and “I hate to have lice.”

But that was him: He was a silly dude. And that endeared him too me even more. But when it came to being nice, I think somewhere deep inside him he knew the importance not necessarily of niceness, but of kindess.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that part of the secret to his happiness was that he truly believed that it was nice to be nice…and not just for the other person’s sake.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Sprinkle joy.” And I don’t know if there’s a better way to describe Mr. Sales. He was, indeed, a sprinkler of the happy stuff.

So on the days when I wake up feeling like I could rip the highlights out of the rail-thin bleached blond that cut me off on the road, or I bemoan myself when I pay for a cup of coffee with my last five dollar bill, I think I’ll stop myself and think of my good friend.

And instead of grumbling, “Yeah, whatever. It’s gonna be a great day!” with a nasty sarcasm, I think instead, I’ll smile sincerely, and try to concentrate on being a little kinder.

Because if Big Arn taught me anything, it’s that if you practice kindness even in the worst of times, and you laugh even during the saddest times, you might just start to remember what has value to you.

And I bet Arnie knew that one day I’d get it: That what matters isn’t money. And it isn’t the title you have or the car you drive, or much of anything that consumes you with gut-rotting worry. Or anything much that costs money.

Nah, if Mr. Sales was here I think he’d clap me on the back and say, “Hey, home skillet! I think you finally understand that kindness does matter. And laughter? Home girl, laughter is the most important thing.”


Amanda Gillooly said...

For the record, the picture is of Mark Twain, not THE Arnie Sales.

Murphy's Cats said...

Thanks Amanda! This was exactly what I needed today! A little perspective...

and a beer wouldn't hurt either...

Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda,

You are absolutely right that kindness will make you happier and lower your stress level more than anger over past slights. I born and raised in the valley, and found a new and more accepting way of enjoying life when I moved away. I do love and stay in touch with the friends I left behind.

Congratulations on an intelligent and interesting blog.