The gifts of little problems
Sarah Allen The Times-Gazette
With December 26 comes the official end of the Christmas season. This year’s holiday is now just one of many other memories, preserved in the presents opened and the pictures taken on Christmas morning.
It seems a shame that — after weeks of preparation, family traditions, and mounting excitement — a mere night’s sleep brings the usual mundane routine.
Snow no longer brings visions of a white Christmas; airports bustle with businessmen rather than families; and decorations are on their way back to the closet.
Thinking of all the everyday things that replace the magic of Christmas, I can’t help but be reminded of a quote by author Maya Angelou.
“I’ve learned,” she once said, “that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
The holiday season can see all three of those things at once. After all, Ohio is no stranger to a “gray Christmas,” many people travel over the holidays, and tangled Christmas tree lights … well, would it really be Christmas without that little aggravation? Sitting on the living room floor, unraveling brightly colored knot after knot has almost become a Christmas tradition in its own right, hasn’t it?
Okay, maybe not.
But even as we say goodbye to that irritation, 2014 comes with several of its own — new rainy days, more lost luggage, and a thousand other things.
When people discuss the new year, the words which most often come up are “opportunity,” “hope,” and “fresh start.”
And while the new year is, indeed, full of all those wonderful things, nobody mentions all the little bothers that will, inevitably, arise.
Because they will come.
Keys will be locked inside houses. Coffee will be spilt on papers. Cell phones will be misplaced … or dropped, sat on, thrown in the laundry, flushed down toilets, or a million other things.
So, yes, little everyday problems can be rampant and bothersome, but, as Angelou’s quote suggests, those problems are only as annoying as we allow them to be.
For my family, the problem that has given us the best results is this: getting lost.
Now, my father is great at directions. He’s like a living, breathing GPS.
My mom and I, however, are more like Wrongway Feldman from Gilligan’s Island.
With my father at the helm, however, we rarely get lost. That is not to say, though, that we have never gotten lost.
But never have we gotten as lost as when we travelled to Pennsylvania.
It had been a wonderful vacation. After touring the state on a road trip, there was still one more stop on our itinerary, a little historical village.
But we would never reach that destination.
To this day, I don’t think any of us knows where the wrong turn was.
All we know, is that, somehow, the Allen family embarked on a journey into “a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas.”
The Allen family had “just crossed over into … the Twilight Zone.”
(Or, at least, it seemed that way.)
And of all the Twilight Zones to be transported to, we had to been taken to the dimension of beavers. No matter where we drove, we could not escape those buck-toothed rodents: Beaver Road, Beaver Bridge, Beaver Lumber Supplies, Beaver Creek — they were everywhere.
And then, when we finally found ourselves back in Ohio, we were somehow thrust into a lifeless, dingy realm — not a single business was open. Starving, thirsty, and tired, we could not find anyone else around. The one gas station that was seemingly open, with its lights glimmering in the dark night, was completely deserted.
At last, we found a Wendy’s, where the employees were nice enough to stay open long enough for us to get something to eat. (And let me tell you, those were the best chicken nuggets I’d ever had.)
That Wendy’s seemed to be the rope pulling us back to the real world. We finally found a hotel with vacancies. Relieved, we carried our bags up to the room and plopped onto the bed, glad our trip into the barren, beaver-invaded Twilight Zone was over.
So, ready to relax, we settled into bed, turned on the TV… and were greeted by Leave it to Beaver.
A trip like that could have been horrible. Tempers could have flared. Worry could have tainted an otherwise good vacation.
But, instead, our little annoyance became a family joke. Though that trip was over ten years ago, whenever we get a little lost, we still joke that, as long as we don’t see anything beaver-related, we’ll be okay.
After all, happiness has never been a simple emotion. Rather, it is like a chemical reaction.
Happiness has often been compared to a firework: a whimsical explosion of color and light.
But happiness has even more in common with a firework: at its most basic, a firework is combustible, just like human emotion. It could be tragic, disastrous.
Or, it could be beautiful.
Happiness is the same way. Any problem can be transformed into something wondrous if we only add the right ingredients: a good attitude, some optimism, and just a little big of humor.
After all, nobody truly believes that a “happy new year” is one void of any difficulty.
Instead, what we mean is that we hope difficulties are small, and that each one brings with it something positive, whether an opportunity, a little laugh, or just a reminder that things aren’t always as bad as they seem.
Because we know, during the next year, we’re going to have our fair share of rainy days and lost luggage. And, inevitably, at the end of it, we’ll be right back at the living room floor, untangling string after string of Christmas tree lights.
Sarah Allen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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