Maddie and I have just finished reading Pollyanna together. She received the book for her birthday in January from a friend. It has been the perfect story as we are in the beginning stages of the diabetes journey. I was surprised and delighted as each chapter unfolded; and couldn’t wait for the ending! I really did not expect to like it so much.
When I was a young girl Maddie’s age, I got the distinct impression from others that “Pollyanna” was a bad word. At least, the way they talked about it was in a very negative light: such things as, “You don’t want to be a pollyanna!” or “She is such a pollyanna!” I was never quite sure what the problem was, and now that I’ve read the book, I’m still not sure.
I AM pretty sure that being a “pollyanna” has to do with playing “The Glad Game”. This is a game that young Pollyanna learned to play from her pastor-father when life dealt less-than-desirable events, such as receiving crutches in the missionary barrel, when she had longed for a doll. Finding something in the situation to be GLAD about was the game…to see if one COULD find something to be glad about and then allowing oneself to actually BE glad in the midst of the disappointment or tragedy, whatever it might be. Pollyanna and her father found that the fact Pollyanna did not need crutches (at the time), was certainly a reason to be glad indeed. Pollyanna would go on to experience far more distressing events than not receiving a doll: the death of her father and an auto accident leaving her paralyzed; to name the worst of them. Pollyanna becomes a bright light in a dark town, bringing the game into the homes and hearts of so many people when she goes to live with her Aunt Polly Harrington after her father dies. The story is compelling, heartwarming, and has a wonderful touch of mystery and romance too.
I s’pose what is so repelling to those who frown on this way of looking at life, is that it appears to be a way of merely passing over or denying a very real disappointment or heartache. Nothing could be farther from the truth, IF one reads the book! I have personally gone through hard times when some well-intentioned folks tried to “cheer me” by playing “the glad game” for me…but in most cases, their efforts fell flat because I had no sense that they themselves had ever been through anything remotely as disappointing or heart-wrenching as I had experienced. Yet when others, whom I knew to be survivors of suffering, came alongside me and played the glad game (not in so many words), I could hear it and I was buoyed by their perspective…challenged to see even some measure of light in the darkness of my circumstances. I now feel pretty certain that this “glad game” is really NOT for the faint of heart…it requires a strength of character to play it, to even entertain that there might be a glimmer of hope in the midst of horrid circumstances.
Of course, it often takes a while…for the game to have it’s sway in one’s heart. This is certainly born out in the character’s lives as they struggle to understand the game and play it along with Pollyanna. Indeed, Pollyanna herself struggles greatly with playing the glad game when her legs “won’t go” after the automobile accident. She just can’t seem to find anything to be glad about that. And we can fully understand! But in time, her eyes are opened to the “good in the bad” (as someone said to me just the other day as we talked of our daughter’s diagnoses) and Pollyanna is able to embrace the glad game. It is NOT denial, or some way of putting on rose coloured glasses. No indeed. It is the hugest, most difficult thing our hearts will ever do: find joy in the midst of suffering.
It is gut wrenching, yet lovely, to realize how my own dear little one is playing the glad game with more fortitude and openness than I am. She has in many ways, a greater strength of character and a stronger willingness to see the good-in-the-bad than I have. On more than one evening as we finished our chapter just before tuck-in, she would say, “So, playing the glad game with having diabetes means…” and then she would say something she thought was good about her having diabetes that would catch my heart and bring a teary smile. The book has even brought her a deeper sensitivity to the physical challenges that others face…seeing someone in a wheelchair, or someone who has a pump, or a limp. The really cool thing is that the family that gave her this wonderful book, are indeed survivors of suffering (actually they endure it each and every day); and to know their story makes the gift of this book all the more powerful!
One of the most difficult things for me in watching my daughter deal with diabetes is the numerous finger sticks she has to do in a day. Anywhere from 5 to 8 times a day, she bravely jabs the lancet into one of her precious, beautiful, 8 year old fingers to give a drop of blood for testing her blood sugar level. I asked her recently (genuinely wanting to know her thoughts on this), if she was able to play the glad game with the finger pricks….and this was her response: “I’m glad I have a way to know what my sugars are so I won’t faint and so I can get my insulin.” I gulp. I grin. I’m grateful. Honestly, people, I wonder if I would have such strength of character.