No Guarantees

I just got back from a follow-up visit with the endodontist who did a minor surgical procedure on one of my upper molars.   I’d been dreading the visit, because with the way my luck has been running lately, I figured the news wasn’t going to be good.  I fully expected her to say something along the lines of,  “The surgery didn’t work, so that tooth needs to be pulled.  Plus you need two more root canals, five new crowns and possibly another oral surgery just to be safe.  This is going to be expensive, so we’re going to need your debit card and PIN number so we can just access your bank account directly.”

Luckily, she didn’t say anything of the kind.  Instead, she told me that the tooth seems to be healing nicely, and that occasional discomfort I feel around it is most likely caused by scar tissue and the pressure from my sinuses. (Which makes sense, since I’ve just gotten over a particularly nasty cold.)  Her verdict may not have been what I was expecting, but it did make me very happy and relieved.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a world where things were more predictable.  I wish that I could guarantee that my life would go well if I just did all the right things:  working hard, obeying the rules, being kind to other people, etc.  I honestly think that I could even handle the bad stuff so much better if I could just see it coming and brace myself for it, just a little bit.

But the world doesn’t work that way.  No matter what we do, only a portion of our lives will ever be predictable.  Life is a journey full of unexpected twists and turns, with many surprises along the way.  And not all of them are good.

A couple of weeks ago, I agreed to foster one of the dogs from the animal shelter where I volunteer.  Stanley was suffering from kennel cough, and my plan was to adopt him as soon as he was healed and the shelter made him available for adoption.  He lived with us for over a week, gradually recovering his health and his spirits.  My husband and I began to think of him as “our” dog and we were sure it was just a matter of time before we would be able to officially adopt him.

But we were wrong.  Stanley began displaying some serious resource guarding, which can be a dangerous behavior in any home, but it’s especially a problem in a home that has small children in it.  We have a ten-month old grandson who is just beginning to be mobile, and he’s a fast little guy.  He’s also years away from being old enough to understand that when a dog growls, it’s time to back away slowly.  As much as we wanted to keep Stanley, we absolutely weren’t willing to put our grandson at risk.  And so we made the very hard decision to take Stanley back to the shelter.

Sometimes things don’t go the way we planned at all, and sometimes that hurts.  A lot.  All we can do is move forward, confident in the knowledge that not all of the surprises in store for us will be bad ones, and remembering that sometimes things turn out much better than we had dared to hope.  Life is unpredictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Wait and See

Why my daughter was one, my husband and I wanted to move to a house that would accommodate the second child we hoped to have.  Our first house was a small two-bedroom home, and the second bedroom was a little smaller than the average walk-in closest.  Our choices were limited due to our rather tiny budget, and after searching for several weeks, we were getting very discouraged.  So we were thrilled when our agent showed us a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in a suburb that had good schools and was an easy commute to my husband’s job. And best of all:  it was in our budget, because it needed work and had sat on the market for a long time with no interest, so they had just reduced the price.  We immediately put in a very strong offer and confidently waited to hear the good news that we could begin packing.

glenway-houseI was so sure that the house would be ours that when our agent called to say the sellers had already accepted another offer, I actually cried, just a little.  I had been so happy that we had finally found the perfect house for our family, with plenty of room to grow into and loads of potential for a couple (like us) who were willing to do some rehab work. Losing that house was devastating, but all we could do was keep looking, and we eventually found another fixer-upper in the same neighborhood.  It was smaller (three-bedroom, one bath), but it was in our budget and although we weren’t particularly excited about it, we decided it would do.

The first few times I drove by the house we lost, I felt a little tinge of jealousy for the people who had been lucky enough to buy it.  I wanted that extra bedroom for my home office, and that extra bathroom sure would come in handy when we had house guests.  But eventually, I became a little more knowledgeable about real estate and realized that not buying getting that house I had wanted so desperately was actually the best thing that could have happened to our family.

Being young and naive, my husband and I had been so busy counting bedrooms and bathrooms that we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the house sat on a busy street with no sidewalks, two blocks from active train tracks on the north and two blocks from a major highway on the south.  It also had a steep asphalt driveway which would have been impossible to navigate in icy weather, and was probably slippery even in rain.  The house we ended up with may have been smaller, but it sat on a quiet street where kids could safely ride bikes, had a flat driveway, and was within walking distance to a grade school.  Yes, we had to put time and money into it, but when the time came to sell that house, we were able to make a small profit from our efforts.  That wouldn’t have happened with the house we lost.

The point of this story is that I have learned, over these many years, that sometimes what we think is a bad thing actually turns out to be a good thing.  And conversely, what we think is a good thing can turn out to be bad.  So I try very hard these days not to get too excited when I believe something good has happened, at least not right away, until I see how things play out.  Even more importantly, I try not to be too despairing when things aren’t going quite the way I wanted.  Because I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else, and sometimes the best thing to do is simply wait and see.

It’s All About Attitude

IMG_0055Last Friday night, my husband and I took some very good friends to the local “Balloon Glow,” which is an event held the night before the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. Everyone gathers in the park to watch the giant hot-air balloons being blown up, and after it gets dark, the balloons light up randomly, a few seconds at a time.  Every so often, a loud whistle blows as a signal that all the balloons are going to be lit up at the same time.  It’s an incredibly beautiful sight.

My husband and I have been to this event several times, but this was the first year that this couple joined us, and they were very excited to see the balloons all lit up.  They brought their camera, and we came early to beat the crowds and make sure we didn’t miss anything.  We even paid extra to attend a special fund-raising event at the Balloon Glow that meant we would have a place to sit and enjoy drinks and dinner while we enjoyed the sights.  Unfortunately, it was so windy that night that they were unable to even blow up the balloons, much less light them.  So we had come all that way, and paid all that money, just to see a bunch of deflated balloons lying on the ground.

IMG_0057Now it could have been a horrible evening, with our disappointment leading to non-stop grumbling and complaining, and even anger at the decision not to proceed with the Balloon Glow, since frankly, it didn’t seem all that windy to us. We kept hoping that they would blow the balloons up and light them for just a few minutes, or maybe even just a few of the balloons, and were definitely disappointed for our friends when that didn’t happen. But our friends were very gracious about it and pointed out that they were spending a nice Fall evening out in a beautiful city park, enjoying dinner and drinks with good friends.  And we followed their lead, making the conscious decision to simply relax and enjoy ourselves rather than fret over what “should have been.”

Later, it occurred to me that the whole evening was a great example of how little control we often have in what happens to us, but how much control we have in how we choose to react to what happens to us.  I couldn’t make the wind die down, and (although I had the good sense not to try), I’m quite sure I couldn’t have convinced any of the event’s leaders to proceed with the Balloon Glow despite the wind.  But what I could do was acknowledge our disappointment, and then let go of it, and simply get on with having a nice night out with dear friends.  And I can honestly say that we had a wonderful time together, even without the hot-air balloons.

There will always be bad stuff in our lives, from the minor disappointments of deflated balloons, to the major stuff of serious illnesses, natural disasters, financial hardships and the like, and there will be times when we just have to let ourselves feel the anger, fear and hurt that comes with them.  But even in the worst of times, we can choose to look for and embrace the good that is always there if we just allow ourselves to see it and respond to it.  Good stuff and bad stuff are always with us, but we get to choose which one we dwell on, and I believe that life is so much better we when try our very best to focus on the good.  It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.