When I was in high school, someone decided the theme for all the literature we would read in grades 11 and 12 English would be “imprisoned lives.” We did read some great books, but it was a gloomy couple of years.
One of the more painful offerings we studied was “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Aleksandr Solzhentisyn. In case you’ve missed this one, (spoilers) it’s about a day in the life of a guy in a Soviet labour camp in the 1950s. It’s a rough day, by our standards. He’s sick and hungry and cold and he lays bricks and life is hard. But at the end of the day, he’s kind of happy because it was a good day, comparatively, I think because he wasn’t beaten and maybe someone gave him a cigarette. I don’t completely remember. I can’t say I loved this book.
Then again, I read it seventeen years ago, and I still sometimes think about it. I think I was most struck by the modern-style, feel-good, Oprah-type message that the difference between a good day and a bad day has to do with your attitude. We hear this message all the time, but you’d think it wouldn’t really apply to people in prison camp. And if it does, well damn, what are we all whining about?
I know that for me the difference between a good day and a bad day is usually subtle. I work in accounting. From the outside, my day-to-day probably looks the same. But the differences have to do with the weather; and how depressing the news was that morning; and whether there were voice mails waiting when I got into work or whether people could wait until I’d made my tea first; and whether I handled things in ways that I considered brilliant or whether I felt overwhelmed; and if I was brilliant, whether anyone noticed or appreciated it; and whether I got to have a positive conversation with someone; and whether or not there might have been a little bit of chocolate involved in my morning.
I’m off work now though. I had my surgery the other day and I am recovering. I am sore and I am bored. I’ve been taking pain killers and sleeping a lot. The days are kind of blurring together.
But this morning I woke up and knew it was a good day, and here is the criterion on which I judged it: I opened my eyes and instantly realized that I no longer felt like I had been stabbed. And that was all it took.
I guess the real difference between a good day and a bad day is attitude, and it just has to do with how low you set the bar.