2015-12-27

Sometimes things go wrong

I recently reflected on my article about Panic, Luck, and Control. It was good to remind myself of those experiences and to consider the continuing impact of those events. The lessons of mindfulness and awareness of perspective extend beyond life-threatening situations. Today, I had the opportunity to exercise a bit of perspective while experiencing a series of mishaps.


Image source: "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst [Goodreads]

Let me begin by saying that this post is not a rant. To put it crudely: shit happens. The mishaps I experienced today were simple and non-threatening. As you'll see, I kept that in mind throughout the day.

I started the day with a vehicle that wouldn't start, probably due to the very cold temperatures in Colorado currently. A minor inconvenience easily remedied with preparedness. So, I grabbed my portable jump-starter (which I own for just such occasions), hooked it up, and got the vehicle started. The primary use of my vehicles is transporting my kids and that's exactly what I needed it for today. So, after picking them up, we were off to get some groceries and necessities.

Shopping with my kids is always very easy; we have a list, we plan meals beforehand, they know how I shop (by value not by brand), and we happily disregard marketing distractions so that we get only what we came for. So, we completed our list, bought what we needed, and went back to the car. Unfortunately, it wouldn't start again.

At this point, I suspect that the issue is worse than the cold, but -- as I have groceries and my children with me -- I need to find a quick solution now and tinker later. I grab the jump starter (which I'd had the forethought to keep with me in the vehicle for this trip), hook it up, and start the car. Yay! Problem solved and time to go home, right? Nope. I got out of the car, flip the switch off for the jump starter, and the vehicle sputters and dies. Weird. Maybe it just needs a little gas to get the engine warm? I jump it again, start the engine successfully, but get the same sputtering death when I flip off the jump starter.

With the vehicle inoperable, my daughter starts to voice a bit of concern and worry. This is where those lessons I mentioned at the start kicked in for me and I now had an opportunity to pass on similar perspective to her. I told her that this kind of things happen. Things break, plans get messed up, money gets spent, and time passes. Change and chaos are a fact of life, a fact of existence in the universe. The thing which we have control over is how we view those stressors. I explained to her that I could easily be frustrated about the car problems, I could be annoyed that our day was getting "ruined", but that frustration and anger wouldn't fix the car nor magically transport us home with the groceries and on with our day. What that frustration and anger could do is destroy whatever is make the experience that much worse.

We discussed an intentional positive focus in our perspective. What was the good news? Well, we were in the parking lot of a place that sold basic car necessities (batteries, tools, cables, etc.) and we were less than a block from an automotive store from which I could even buy engine replacement parts if necessary. My son chimed in that we could even spend more time looking at the toys and games, insisting that there's no way we could get bored.

I proceeded to deal with the car issues, we were in and out of the store multiple times. I borrowed tools, I pulled the battery, and got it tested. Meanwhile, my kids and I had a bite to eat and spent more time together. Coincidentally, while we were wandering the store, we ran into many people we knew and even got acquainted with a few of the associates. It became kind of fun. I got to see multiple friends, meet new people, catch up on news of their holidays, and shared a shrug and a laugh with a friend who was there swapping out his dead-in-the-cold car battery as well.

At one point, when we were back outside, I accidentally dropped one of the borrowed tools into my engine. My daughter's mouth dropped open with surprise and my sons eyes were the size of saucers. I just started laughing and said, "Really?! Really, Indy?! You haven't had enough yet?" I looked over at my kids with a smile, shook my head, and said, "Guess I needed to make things more interesting." They starting cracking up, the worry disappeared from their faces. I struggled and managed to free the tool from the engine compartment and finished what I was doing.

What could have been "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" had turned into a challenging adventure, not of adrenaline and life-or-death circumstance, but of everyday stress. When it was all over, I had less money in the bank than I'd planned to end the day with, but I still had two happy kids and another bad-day-gone-good memory. Sure, I'll have a bit more cleaning up to do after this, financially and vehicularly, but it's just like sweeping up broken glass when you drop a vase. Sometimes things go wrong, but nothing is really bad until the people involved give up and let that brokenness of circumstance enter their minds and hearts.
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