The other day I was reading bits and pieces from “The uncollected Wodehouse” when I came across a gem that I thought I would write about today. P.G. Wodehouse, by the way, is best known for his Jeeves (the brainy butler) character. If you have never read the Jeeves and Wooster books and need a laugh, rush over to the library and borrow some. And if you have never seen the TV series, rent it immediately: the one with Stephen Fry magnificently portraying Jeeves and an equally magnificent Hugh Laurie (yes, Dr. House) playing the part of Bertie Wooster, the scatterbrained aristocrat. But this is neither here nor there.
Point is, I read a two-page story titled “The secret pleasures of Reginald.” This long (sorry!) excerpt (I took parts of it out, so as to shorten it, but you can read the entire story here: http://tinyurl.com/yw43js) illustrates Reggie’s “thankful…not” theory:
I found Reggie in the club one Saturday afternoon. He was reclining in a long chair, motionless, his eyes fixed glassily on the ceiling. He frowned a little when I spoke. "You don’t seem to be doing anything," I said.
"It’s not what I’m doing, it’s what I am not doing that matters."
It sounded like an epigram, but epigrams are so little associated with Reggie that I ventured to ask what he meant.
He sighed. "Ah well," he said. "I suppose the sooner I tell you, the sooner you’ll go. Do you know Bodfish?"
I shuddered. "Wilkinson Bodfish? I do."
"Have you ever spent a weekend at Bodfish’s place in the country?"
I shuddered again. "I have."
"Well, I’m not spending the weekend at Bodfish’s place in the country."
"I see you’re not. But — "
"You don’t understand. I do not mean that I am simply absent from Bodfish’s place in the country. I mean that I am deliberately not spending the weekend there. When you interrupted me just now, I was not strolling down to Bodfish’s garage, listening to his prattle about his new car." […]
I got his true meaning. "I see. You mean that you will be thanking your stars that you aren’t with Bodfish."
"That is it, put crudely. But I go further. I don’t indulge in a mere momentary self-congratulation, I do the thing thoroughly. If I were weekending at Bodfish’s, I should have arrived there just half an hour ago. I therefore selected that moment for beginning not to weekend with Bodfish. I settled myself in this chair and I did not have my back slapped at the station. A few minutes later I was not whirling along the country roads, trying to balance the car with my legs and an elbow. Time passed, and I was not shaking hands with Mrs. Bodfish. I have just had the most corking half-hour, and shortly – when you have remembered an appointment – I shall go on having it. What I am really looking forward to is the happy time after dinner. I shall pass it in not playing bridge with Bodfish, Mrs. Bodfish, and a neighbor. Sunday morning is the best part of the whole weekend, though. That is when I shall most enjoy myself. Do you know a man named Pringle? Next Saturday I am not going to stay with Pringle. I forget who is not to be my host the Saturday after that. I have so many engagements of this kind that I lose track of them."
"But, Reggie, this is genius. You have hit on the greatest idea of the age. You might extend this system of yours."
This is genius, indeed. We normally use the adjective “thankful” to express appreciation for a positive experience or whatnot. But how about being thankful for things that did NOT happen? In fact, I can think of a number of things for which I am thankful…not.
For instance, I am thankful that I did NOT accept a teaching position at a university in Canada many years ago, before I was awarded my Ph.D. I love Canada, loved living there, don’t get me wrong, but for some reason, when I was offered this job on a silver platter, something that I can best describe as a gut feeling induced me to decline. It was as though I KNEW that I had to leave for Italy that fall. Now, for someone in my position, i.e., a jobless Ph.D. candidate, it was a crazy thing to do (what was I thinking?!)–but I listened to my gut feeling and flew to Italy.
And I met Stefano. If I hadn’t turned down the teaching job, we wouldn’t be together today. Yes, there are indeed worse things than spending a weekend with Bodfish.