The Life of Brian first aired in 1979. It’s a Monty Python movie, so it has a unique interpretation of events that took place in Biblical times; the retold story is hysterical but it is the final scene that sticks out in my memory, with a smile. The main character is one of many who hangs on a cross, and he is singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” while the others are swaying along to the catchy song’s rhythm. It is a cheerful, funny song with a lot of whistling about the inevitability of death — so life should be spent taking chances and being happy. Listening to the song again recently made me think that it would be a wonderful idea to look back and examine difficult times in my life with a sense of humor, or at least with a different, kinder perspective — it’s a process that involves being compassionate and nonjudgmental.
I started by going back to when I was 19 years old, when I was a secretary in a warehouse that made displays for business conventions. The downstairs held offices for the businessmen and other staff and the upstairs was a warehouse for construction workers. It was the 1980’s and the receptionist answered calls with a switchboard, fully equipped with plugs and cords. You had to stick the plug into the spot for an incoming call and then move the accompanying plug over to the person they were calling. If the call was for a person in the warehouse, the receptionist had to go to the microphone first and announce to Mr. So-and-So to pick up extension whatever. Part of my job was to relieve the switchboard operator at lunch and on breaks. I felt like Ernestine from Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In: “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?”
One day it was so busy I couldn’t keep up with the high volume of calls and in my haste began to make mistakes. I got on the microphone and announced, “Hello, Warren Displays, Can I help you?” Well, I got about 20 calls from the men in the warehouse along with bad jokes that embarrassed me terribly.
This incident haunted me for years, and I was needlessly hard on myself for this foolish but innocent mistake. It took a lot of work at self-kindness and accepting that life is not meant to be perfect in order to transform the humiliation into humor. As I got older and came to experience different successes and failures, my views about life expanded. I learned about self-acceptance and finally understood, with relief, that we are not made to be perfect. Our task in life is to learn to love ourselves with all our hearts and what we perceive to be flaws are perhaps not flaws at all. Maybe they are just obstacles for us to climb and conquer, or maybe something we simply learn to accept and live with. It is only then that we can enjoy life with a sincere chuckle.