Patchwork: Running on Half-Empty


By Chris Quilter


My friend and fellow columnist Randy Kraft gave me the idea for my Thanksgiving column in her Thanksgiving column last week. Writing with her usual seductive flair, she discussed the value of gratitude in her life, artfully reeling me in before throwing down the gauntlet: “The jaded among us, who see the glass as perpetually half-empty, scorn such practices…”

Excuse me? On behalf of the Half-Empty—my people—I protest. For starters, we are not jaded. We are disappointed. Our glasses could be fuller. Or bigger, in which case I can assure you that we would be less disappointed if they were half empty.

I would have chalked up “jaded” to a rare infelicitous choice of words had Randy not attached it to the suggestion that the Half-Empty scorn—scorn!—the practice of gratitude. This is so typical of how little the Half-Full understand us. We are deeply grateful for all sorts of things, such as not being dead yet, not being in worse health, or not having to live inland. We’re even grateful for having friends who are Half-Full of it.

Neuroscientists say our species has a built-in bias towards optimism. We are hard-wired to have hope, because otherwise it would be hard to get out of bed in the morning. With characteristic wishful thinking, the Half-Full assume this proves they are only doing what comes naturally. Never mind about people like my brother Matt, one of the finest Half-Empty human beings I know. A man who says he wakes up every day and thinks, “Well, cheated death again,” is unlikely to do a reverse-Vader and cross over to the Sunny Side. Yet he’s married to a Half-Full woman of boundless good cheer and they are almost annoyingly happy.

If only the Half-Full and Half-Empty could intermarry like my brother and his wife, or rise above their differences like the post-election Republicans and Democrats are doing. If only the Half-Full could spare us their exquisite condescension and those pitying looks that telegraph their sense of superiority. If only they could affirm the Half Empty as the inseparable yin to their yang and show us some respect.

The Half-Empty are hardly perfect, but we’re not half-bad. We may be life’s defensive drivers, but there are idiots out there behind the wheel. That’s why I always make eye contact with and then wave cheerfully to the drivers who stop for me at crosswalks. This Half-Empty gesture is an expression of gratitude for not having become road kill. If drivers choose to take it as a Half-Full expression of universal good will, I won’t hold it against them. The facts of life, as I am trying to persuade several hotheaded friends who are locked in mortal combat, are subject to interpretation.

The one indisputable home truth about running our lives on Half-Empty or Half-Full is that we have a common destination. I can picture myself on my deathbed—this is the sort of thing that comes easily to the Half Empty—with Randy at my side. She gently strokes my hand while suppressing an all-too-human frisson of foxhole guilt that comes from outliving someone you love. I look up at her and croak, “See? I told you.” She doesn’t hear me. She’s too busy murmuring in my ear, “It’s okay. Just let go. Follow the light.”

I hope I remember to thank her for being there.


Laguna local Quilter is grateful to be on the boards of Laguna Beach Seniors and No Square Theatre, which disavow these opinions.

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