I sat down on the pine bench and delighted in the grocery store food laid out before me. There was Cervelat (a Swiss sausage), Zopf (a Swiss braided white bread), apples, an Ovomaltine chocolate bar, and a bottle of mineral water. Micah and I had spent the morning hiking in the Alps and a feeling of complete contentment came over me as I prepared to feast on our indoor picnic. The chalet where we were staying in Mürren, Switzerland was warm and inviting, and as I looked through the row of dining room windows overlooking a quiet street in the small village, I saw window boxes filled with blazing red flowers.
"I just can't BELIEVE these prices. We just came from Zurich and paid forty dollars for a light lunch!", exclaimed the wife of a couple from Ohio in the nearby kitchen. They were checking in for a four night stay. From there the husband was flying to Ireland where he would spend a week golfing with his buddies. Our gracious host Denise listened as the wife continued rattling off the injustice of the price of everything. Her voice was loud and shrill and infringed upon our mountain idyll.
"And just so I know, how many people are staying here?" asked the wife, after being reminded there were two bathrooms in the chalet to be shared by all of the guests.
"Tonight there's eight of you but tomorrow there will only be four," answered Denise.
I hoped their check-in would end quickly and that they'd soon depart for an over-priced lunch somewhere far, far away. Instead, the wife decided to join us. She took out a large plastic bag filled with two cheese sandwiches and bananas, all taken from their hotel breakfast in Zurich.
"You can go get a drink if you want," said the wife. "I'm fine drinking this cheap, instant coffee over here." The husband ran out the door, slamming it behind him, and returned a few minutes later with what the wife could only imagine must have been the world's most expensive Coke. Then the four of us had a surprisingly nice conversation because, it turns out, the couple from Ohio were really nice people when they weren't complaining.
After lunch Micah and I hiked to a nearby village, Gimmelwald. On our way we saw an enormous waterfall, a pasture of sheep, the bells worn around their necks echoing between mountains and valleys, and we saw the Ohio couple. They were standing on a nearby trail talking to a couple of Americans. From the uncomfortable look on the faces of the other couple, I guessed they too were being subjected to a rant on the outrageous price of everything.
In Gimmelwald, a tiny village, a Swiss family of multiple generations sat on the front porch of their chalet talking and lounging the afternoon away. And then we came upon The Honesty Shop, "Europe's First Unattended Self-Service Village Shop." Inside were snacks, t-shirts, and an array of antiques one could purchase on the honor system. There were also buttons with messages proclaiming the virtue of honesty for sale. But what caught my attention was a sign outside that said, "Be different. Say something positive." This, I decided, is a testament to how far negativity, complaining, and scarcity will travel. Even in a remote, picturesque place, home to caramel colored dairy cows and Edelweiss, one has to be reminded to leave behind the all too common habit of seeing how little there is in the world. It's the same old fear of not having enough or being enough that follows us wherever we go (yes, even to one of the most glorious mountain tops in the world). And it's the surest way to be robbed of the joy and beauty around us.
Micah and I left the next morning. We never saw the Ohio couple again. I hope for their sakes the awe-inspiring landscape eventually silenced their complaining and negativity. But I also know that it's easier to give in to negative thinking than it is to be positive. Positivity requires a daily, conscious choice. Whether one is in the Alps or on the prairie, at work or on vacation, positivity is something we cultivate. And it is so worth the effort. So be different. Say something positive.