Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center
Mark Tapley is my hero. I loved him when I first encountered him, and I appreciate him now more than ever. If you’ve never hear of him, you’re not alone. Mark is a character in Martin Chuzzlewit, one of Charles Dickens’ least read and least loved novels. So, what does a secondary character in an unsuccessful 1844 novel have to do with real life in pandemic-riddled 2020?
Basically, Mark is a role model for tough times. He is intelligent, kind, resourceful, and energetic, with a natural disposition to be “jolly,” as he puts it. His only selfishness is the worry that if his life it too easy there “won’t be any credit” in his being happy and he won’t be appreciated for always being in good humor. In order to prove himself, he leaves his comfortable job at the local pub outside London and ends up in a tiny town in America on the banks of the Mississippi river. There, he nearly dies of a contagious disease that is infecting everyone around him. Hmmm. Deadly disease? Contagious? Sound familiar?
Mark manages to stay jolly through his horrible experience, not because he willfully ignores reality, but because he has a gift for seeing and understanding that which is good and admirable around him. He is unfailingly kind to others, helping, befriending, and empathizing with the people he meets, who respond with what is best in themselves. Kindness repays kindness, friendship creates friendship, hope engenders hope.
Too good to be true? It is fiction, after all. But we all know people like Mark, if we think about it. They are the friends and acquaintances who are always ready to help out, and who seem somehow to be bright and happy and encouraging, no matter what the situation. Of course, no one can be happy all the time (even Mark Tapley has his down moments). The goal is to be cheerful as much as you can, and cranky as little as possible.
It may seem an uphill climb to find the sunny side of things in this era of isolation, disenfranchisement, and loss. There are so many things we can’t do right now, it is easy to focus on that which has been taken from us, instead of those things we have newly discovered. My Dad is 92, and his hobbies are choral singing, theatre, and going to movies. You can’t sing with friends on Zoom with everyone a different spit-second delayed, and live theatre via the internet is pretty much a non-starter. No wonder he gets cranky! But having a naturally happy disposition, Dad moves on to things that do please him, like morning walks, fancy dinners (I cook), aged whisky, and basketball on TV. It makes the time pass much more quickly if you are enjoying yourself.
So keep “cranky” at bay and embrace “jolly” like Mark Tapley. You’ll probably find that not only are you making life more pleasant for the people around you, you’re making it much more pleasant for yourself as well!