“Pollyanna” is often used as a derisive label and, more often, used to refer sarcastically to an aging person. But Disney made a movie some decades back, based on a 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter, in which Pollyanna was a little girl who changed the outlook of an entire town. The dictionary defines a Pollyanna as an excessively cheerful or optimistic person, but infers that s/he is someone in denial.
GG was an archetypical Pollyanna. She made lemonade. Unlike the cynical definition, my mom hid from nothing. Instead, she encountered every challenge and every left turn in life with determination sprinkled with a huge serving of optimism. Her life was not easy. With a working-class financial status, a deformed spine, and a high school education, she became a young widow with four children. Nevertheless, GG not only survived; she thrived well into her late 90s—missing her 100th birthday by a mere six months.
So how would GG cope with Covid-19 limitations? Normally, she got up each morning, started a pot of coffee, made her bed, changed out of her nightgown, and settled down to read the morning paper from cover to cover. In 2014, the year GG died, Admiral William H. McRaven famously advised, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” Mom had been making her bed her entire life and changing lots of people’s worlds—always for the better.
This is how I imagine that my mom would cope with the pandemic and confinement. Restricted from her normal activities she would finish her paper and begin making phone calls, going down her list to check in with family and friends. She would bind them in a web of connection and love, listening to their aches, concerns, fears, and hopes while avoiding their pessimism and instilling her optimism. If she were physically able, she would go for a walk alone; if not, she would do some exercises at home—then maybe take in a daytime talk or game show before a nap or cozying up with a new book. She would play solitaire, online scrabble, or knit. If someone brought her fabric, she would make face masks and give them away. She would fill the day from morning till bedtime. The days would roll by without complaint.
Mom, keenly aware of the good in her life, was grateful for it. It filled her up and left no room for self-pity. Trying to emulate her, I’m not doing half-bad. I throw in a little Zen philosophy when I waver and leave out daytime television. So far, Covid-19 hasn’t daunted my enthusiasm for greeting another day. . . and I definitely make my bed every morning.