Last Monday did not go well for me. I had spent the morning walking shelter dogs in cold and driving rain, and by the time I got home, I was soaked to the skin and miserable. I changed to dry clothes, but decided to eat a hot lunch before showering. That turned out to be a big mistake, since our power went out as soon as I was done eating, meaning there was no way I could dry my hair after a shower. And since I was still chilled to the bone, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in my rapidly cooling house with a headful of wet hair.
The rain finally stopped, but the sky was so grey and gloomy that it was dark in our house even though it was still midday. As the afternoon wore on, the house got steadily colder and darker, so I hauled out our stash of flashlights and candles, only to discover that half the flashlights didn’t work, most of the batteries had expired, and one of them had leaked some nasty looking stuff all over the candles. To make matters worse, we were expected for dinner at a friend’s house, and I still had to make the salad I was supposed to bring. Overwhelmed, I sat huddled in a blanket on the couch, deeply unhappy, and thinking dark thoughts about our electric company.
But the thing about pity parties is that they grow boring rather quickly. Faced with the choice of sitting at home in a dark and cold house, trying to read by the light of a Coleman lantern, or going to a dinner party with friends at a house that had both light and heat, I figured out a way to cope. I showered at home, then drove to a nearby friend’s house to dry my hair and get ready for dinner. My husband and I stopped at a grocery store to get salad supplies and I simply made the salad when we got to the dinner party, with my friend who was hosting providing the dishes and a much appreciated glass of wine. We ended up having a wonderful evening with good friends, and returned later that night to a house that had its power restored. Life was, once again, worth living.
In the past week, my home town of St. Louis has been hit with steady, torrential rain and record flooding in many areas. People have lost their homes, their businesses, their treasured personal possessions, and as anyone who has dealt with the aftermath of a natural disaster knows, their pain and suffering will continue for quite some time. We will all do what we can to help, but it’s still a life-changing tragedy for many, many people.
I know that my brief afternoon of cold and wet discomfort is nothing compared to what the flood victims are going through. I’m not apologizing for how I felt that afternoon, as I don’t believe in apologizing for emotions. Emotions are like those obnoxious distant relatives we all seem to have: they just show up, uninvited and often amazingly inappropriate. But I do hope that I can remember, the next time life is inconvenient and uncomfortable, that this difficult time will soon pass and that, in the grand scheme of things, I have very little to complain about.
My hope for this coming year is that I will finally be wise enough to put my troubles into perspective, to not get dragged down by the temporary and manageable problems that are a normal part of life. And I hope that I will remember how I felt when I was discouraged and overwhelmed, not as an excuse for self-pity, but as a way to be even more empathetic to the people in this world who are experiencing real tragedy. Because the more I understand their pain, the more I’m willing to lend a much needed helping hand.
Happy New Year!