“Cheerfulness”, one of the best essays in “The Keillor Reader” which Garrison K. wrote just after his mother died and he turned seventy, begins this way :
“Cheerfulness is a choice, like choosing what color socks to wear, the black or the red. Happiness is something that occurs, or it doesn’t, and don’t hold your breath. Joy is a theological idea, pretty rare among us mortals and what many people refer to as joy is what I would call bragging. Bliss is brief, about five seconds for the male, fifteen for the female. Contentment is something that belongs to older cultures. Americans are a hungry, restless people, ever in search of the rainbow, the true source, the big secret. Euphoria is a drug.”
Gary’s parents were both “cheerful folks”, in spite of their strict adherence to a Lutheran break-away sect, “The Sanctified Brethren”, who found “no worth” in “theater, fiction, dance music, comedy, spectator sports, partisan politics, wining and dining with unbelievers”, because “none of it glorified the Lord”. He says his was “a happy childhood as childhoods go”. The man who was to become a nationally acclaimed author and broadcaster, famous for his radio stories about the fictitious town of Lake Wobegon, tells of his early education and apotheosis at the University of Minnesota and the first job he got : “That fall I strolled into the student union and got a job, just by asking for it. No experience, just bald-faced confidence”. He goes on : “I did a daily fifteen-minute noontime newscast, edited with great care from the AP teletype, yellow paper marked up with ballpoint, paragraphs snipped, rearranged, taped together, delivered in an authoritative Edward R. Murrow voice, and in the spring the WMMR engineer made a startling discovery. The transmitter had been out of commission all along – I had been reading the news to myself and the studio walls and nobody else”. He winds up by saying “Somehow this did not discourage me”. In spite of what should have been the winter of his discontent, he retained the cheerfulness he had caught from his parents.
The man is a master story-teller. But I may be the only one of his fans to have thought, when I read that, of Simone de Beauvoir, already mentioned in this Blog, for having said that she stopped praying the day she realized she had been talking to herself. That’s about all that needs to be said about prayer, though in my book I devoted a whole chapter to the subject. “De ore Leonis libera nos Domine !” Now there’s a prayer you, dear readers, can identify with, or even with which you can identify.