Follow the Sun

As you’ve probably heard, there’s going to be an total eclipse of the sun tomorrow.  It’s scheduled for roughly 1:00 in my neighborhood, which also happens to be just on the northern-most boundary of the path that is supposed to provide optimal viewing.  Living  in an area where I get to see the eclipse seemed like good news to me, but it didn’t take long for me to learn that there was a darker side to this event (and I’m not just talking about what happens when the sun is blocked by the moon.)  Apparently, thousands upon thousands of people are expected to head to my neck of the woods to view this rare phenomenon, and for the past couple of weeks the local news has been filled with dire predictions about all the havoc they are going to wreak.

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Not a single hotel room will be available.  Traffic will be a nightmare and all highway exit ramps will be blocked as people pull over, get out of their cars and  stare into the sky.  Gas stations may run out of gas and grocery stores may run out of food.  If you are in need of an ambulance or other emergency vehicle, chances are high that they will not be able to get to you in time.  And so on and so on.  You’d think we were anticipating a natural disaster that would make Hurricane Katrina look like a mild inconvenience.

It’s not that I take official warnings lightly.  I learned to pay attention the hard way back in 1982, when we had a blizzard that dropped about eighteen inches of snow on St. Louis.  Bizarrely, it was accompanied by lightening, and my husband and I sat in our living room during the whole thing, playing cards and occasionally peering out the window at the snow storm.  The next morning we woke up to a city that was completely shut down, and I realized that we were just about out of groceries.  I pulled on my snow boots and trudged up the street to the neighborhood grocery.  I have never seen so many empty shelves in my life.  I think there was maybe two cans of beans and a jar of pickles left in the entire store.

These days, when even the tiniest bit of snow is forecast, I do exactly the same thing everybody else in St. Louis does:  I rush to the grocery store and stock up on enough groceries to last me through Spring if necessary.  Especially bread and milk.  And I don’t even like milk.

But when the big day arrives tomorrow, I’m not going to stay at home, guarding my well-stocked pantry and full tank of gas.  I’m going to go to the animal shelter to walk dogs the way I always do on Monday morning, and afterwards I’m going to my mother’s house because she has invited some friends and neighbors over for lunch and eclipse-viewing.  I’ll avoid the highways, but just in case I do get stuck in traffic and don’t make it to Mom’s house, I’m keeping my approved viewing glasses in the car with me.  One way or another, the odds are good that I’ll get to see the eclipse.

I believe in heeding warnings, and I definitely believe in being prepared.  But what I believe in most is using a little bit of good old-fashioned common sense.

Letting Go

IMG_1116I am the first to admit that I am not particularly good at “going with the flow.”  I may not be fond of schedules (being over-scheduled actually makes me cranky), but I do like to know what to expect in any given situation.  And the reason I want to know what to expect is so that I can prepare for it, fully and meticulously.  Being prepared makes me feel as if I’m on top of things, and  secure in the knowledge that I’ll be able to handle whatever situation happens to arise.  Trust me, I would have made an amazing Boy Scout.

When I’m going to be spending the night at a hotel, I bring along a box fan, a pillow and a night light, just so I can be sure of getting a good night’s sleep.  (I can only sleep on a soft pillow, the night light helps me find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and the box fan drowns out the sounds of my husband’s snoring.)  I don’t set foot on an airplane without a carry-on containing food and water (I was once stuck on a runway for five hours), a light sweater in case they turn up the AC, and a couple of crossword puzzles to pass the time.  The trunk of my car is packed with emergency essentials, including a pair of comfortable walking shoes just in case the car breaks down and I have to walk to the nearest gas station.  One way or another, I like to be prepared.

The problem is that there is so much in my life that I can’t possibly prepare for, and when that happens, I tend to get very anxious.  For example, I didn’t plan to spend last month dealing with complicated dental problems, but that’s exactly what happened.  And the situation was made even worse because I was never exactly sure what to expect at each office visit, which left me feeling completely unprepared and unsure of my ability to cope.  That meant I spent a lot of time and energy in these past few weeks worrying and fretting about dental procedures that weren’t even all that bad when I actually had them done.

I may be almost sixty, but there are still many things I hope to learn in this life.  And one of the biggest lessons I’m hoping to learn is how to let go of my belief that I can actually anticipate and prepare for all the problems that come my way.   Because I realize that my obsession with being prepared is really just a way of trying to stay in control, and there is always going to be a portion of my life that is absolutely beyond my control.   And just like everyone else in the world, I need to find a way to come to terms with that.

A good first step, I suppose, is focusing on the things that I can control (I will always travel with at least a fan and a pillow) and trying hard not to think so much about the things I can’t control.  An even better step might be to remind myself that I am stronger and more resilient than I think I am, and that I am also resourceful enough to find solutions to problems when and if they present themselves.   Because if I can remember that, then it’s so much easier to just let go of all the rest.