I grew up with the picture book, The Little Engine That Could. The story originated in the early twentieth century as a folk tale, the gist of which is optimism and fortitude.
As the story goes, all the big engines refused to come to the aid of the broken-down locomotive, pulling a long line of train cars over a mountain pass. Only a small engine came forward to attempt the difficult rescue.
At each slow advance over difficult terrain, the little engine uttered the mantra, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” After surmounting the journey and having reached its destination, the little engine said, “I thought I could.”
I don’t know if this folk tale enhanced an already building work ethic in me and my generation when we were youngsters, but it may well have. We were subtly taught that we could have what we wanted if we worked hard enough. “Anyone can become the President of the United States,” was a common theme.
I wonder, not having received what I wanted, more than a few times in my lifetime, if getting what you want is all that it’s cracked up to be. And, watching the aging generation ahead, who raised us, not being able to do what they want is prophetically palpable.
Perhaps it keeps us grounded to not be enabled to do everything that we want to do. I know I’ve heard it said over and over again and I’ve said it myself, “If I had a million dollars, I would….”
I wonder if those things I’d do with a million dollars would hurt or hinder who I am and who I should be. How about, “I’d relieve your pain, your distress, your sadness, if I could.” But, I can’t.
There’s a saying taped to my desktop computer monitor, reinforcing the truth that I’m not God and I can’t fix everything that’s wrong in my world, as much as I want to. “You can’t heal people you love. You can’t make choices for them. You can’t rescue them. You can promise that they won’t journey alone. You can loan them your map. But this trip is theirs.”
It may be that we’re not meant to have everything we want, or fix everything that’s broken, for that matter. Where would I be if I had done what I wanted, every time I wanted it?
I kind of think that when we don’t get what we want, we edit. We use the creative juices inside us to change what we want. How many of us, college bound had an idea what we wanted to major in? Then, how many of us changed our minds, maybe a few times?
Picasso said, “if I don’t have red, I use blue.” That’s optimism and fortitude as surely as is, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
There’s something encouraging to those of us who are losing the generation who raised us, and becoming less able to do what we want, or what we used to do, how we used to do it. It’s the simple truth that life is ten percent what happens to us and ninety percent how we react to it.
For example, if I can’t walk as steady on my feet as I used to, by golly I’m gonna get me a Mercedes-Benz walker and push that puppy in front of me at speed, dude. In fact, let’s have walker races.
If I can’t eat greens, let’s try oranges. If I’m unsteady, use it as an excuse to hold someone’s hand. If I lose a friend, maybe I can make a new one.
It’s all a matter of attitude and that Little Engine That Could spirit of optimism, strong work ethic, and sticking to it. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” how about you?