“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me,’ and when you have found that attitude, follow it.” William James
I have reflected on the James’ quote often, and indeed this exercise of tracing my life is about the seeking. I feel alive when we go to our camp on a wild, huge lake. The landscape speaks to me, perhaps because when I was young, our vacations were always spent tenting beside the Mad River in the White Mountains. My father’s enthusiasm accounted for some of the pleasure. Every morning at dawn while my mother stayed in her warm bedroll, my brother, father and I would take a dip in the icy cold river. Robin and I were convinced that this was fun. We would then go back to our campsite, where my father would make a big breakfast on the fireplace. There would be softball games with the other tenters, outings to the Flume and to climb a smallish mountain, and campfires with my dad playing the guitar. My mother didn’t like tenting, so we knew we had to strive with all our might to make things easy for her. At first we would ride to the campground with a friend, but later we got a car of our own, a gray Plymouth. The front seat had no back so the passenger had to sit backwards. The back of the driver’s seat was held up by a kitchen chair. We had to stop at every brook along the way to put water in the radiator. My father had grown up poor and without a mother, and yet somehow he became an optimist, always ready to tackle any problem with energy and confidence. My brother and I became optimists too. Some weeks after my mother died, my father said, “Your mother thought I could do anything, and I didn’t want to disappoint her.”
Optimism is the mental attribute that sustains me. A certain landscape of woods and water feeds me.