Rendered Fat Content


Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights,
oil on oak panels, 205.5 cm × 384.9 cm (81 in × 152 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid
"I seem to be better able to recognize blessings in retrospect."

Trauma seems the most modern of disorders. Everyone I meet seems to be working hard to recover from some past experience. Unsurprisingly, most of these prior traumatic experiences lean toward the painful side of the ledger, but not all. A curious portion of these traumatic experiences seem to have been more closely associated with pleasure than with pain. While the painful ones grab the bulk of the headline space, I thought I'd today reserve a little place to speak about the other, less widely advertised ones, those traumas resulting from a surfeit of blessings, good fortune, or luck. I can speak for myself when I insist that my most difficult to recover from traumas came about because I experienced an unaccustomed stream of extremely good luck. I'd been seemingly bred for coping with negative outcomes, but found myself utterly unprepared to integrate dream-come-true quality experiences. I most often created some uproar in response, upsetting some otherwise perfect little applecart, which enabled me to quite cheerfully switch into a minor form of disaster recovery mode, a response I might refer to as PTBD or Post Traumatic Blessing Disorder.

Literature seems woefully ill-prepared to present portraits of prolonged happiness, reserving the happily ever after for a footnote very near the end of an otherwise disastrous tale.
These works leave it to their readers to warmly imagine such a state without exposing them to even the merest description of what it might be like in practice. It's little wonder that readers project the most bizarre fantasies to fill the void, and these projections seem dangerous. What if the reader experiences happily-ever-after without possessing the merest referent, and thereby fails to recognize its blessed presence? I think it common for people puffed up on unrealistic expectations to fail to recognize good fortune when it appears in their lives. We're trained to focus upon the blemishes more than upon the blessings, so a vista might be strewn with blessings only to be dismissed as blemished owing to the presence of a single incongruity. The dedicated seeker might then set about engaging in some distracting toil to rid the landscape of that single blemish without noticing that they're tromping all over a field of perfectly sublime wildflowers.

Worse, though, are those of us who fully recognize that they've fallen into some Vat of Schmaltz, but have not the wherewithal to properly cope with it. We cannot seem to lose a certain creeping paranoia that our luck is destined to change for the worse, so we cannot fully immerse ourselves in our present delight. Our weak coping skills seem to encourage us to suspect that some jig is just about up. We cannot relax or refresh ourselves. The worst afflicted might obsessively pursue even more than more than enough, so conditioned by prior privation that we cannot count our blessings and leave the effort at that. We founder on our blessings, instead, smothering emergent joy in mindless, buoyant pursuit of ever more and even greater bounty.

My friend Jeffrey Townsend insists that every plot features three common elements: 1- Put the protagonist in a tree, 2- Throw rocks at the protagonist, 3- Get the protagonist down out of the tree. Our model for what comprises a compelling story rejects the possibility of a protagonist simply sitting quite contentedly in a tree, the end. Even if some standard protagonist finds himself fortunate enough to find himself happily sitting in a tree, his tale doesn't qualify as a decent story without some nee-do-well chucking a rock or two at him while he sublimely reclines up there. Then, the necessity for salvation simply must come into play. Over the closing credits, the thoughtful screenwriter might deign to explain that once down from his harrowing adventure up that tree, our protagonist lives happily ever after, but that sublime subsequent state never appears on the screen.

I'm wondering today how my life might be different if I were watchful for unanticipated blessings instead of all-too anticipated catastrophes. I seem to get my share of catastrophes whether I maintain vigilance against them or not. They come on their own intrusive volition without ever asking for my permission to enter my life. But what if my focus upon potential catastrophe blinds me from observing the simple blessings around me? How would I even know?

Between our penchant for proper stories and our primitive array of coping skills, I believe that we might all be suffering from some form of PTBD, in unacknowledged denial of just how blessed we might actually be. I think back to some earlier time in my life and quite easily recognize how blessed I was then. I was in heaven then and didn't even know it. I seem to be better able to recognize blessings in retrospect. What a great blessing should I better develop an ability to see, acknowledge, and accept them while they're still here.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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