The Southwest flight from Phoenix landed in Sacramento on-time that Thursday night; a welcome end to a long and hot trip as witnessed by the sweat stains on the collar of Brad Smith’s white button down shirt. Why do I ever wear long sleeves to Arizona? Because his boss thinks it’s more professional than wearing a polo shirt, even though it was 102 degrees by 9:00 am this morning, and his last sales call ended at 6:15 that evening (with a resounding and fully anticipate NO!) Clearly rejection is professional when wearing a damp and smelly long sleeve shirt Brad thought as the plane landed.
The mechanical lady’s voice coming from the speaker on the air conditioned shuttle told Brad that he was headed toward the main terminal. Rather than go straight to his car parked on the 5th level, which was normal, he was headed downstairs to retrieve his suitcase from the lower level. The jogging gear Brad packed but did not use rendered his overhead bin sized suitcase too small, so he used the bigger one; ( note to Brad – stop pretending you will ever exercise while traveling when all hotels that you stay at have a bar). The shuttle stopped when Brad wasn’t paying attention and he bumped the lady next to him.
Sometimes in life the weight you are trying to lift is too heavy: the stress of a new job, the illness of your spouse, another late notice from the bank. Alone we often just cannot accomplish all that is asked of us, nor should we have to in most cases.
Long ago, probably either the Greek’s or Roman’s invented a way to increase a person’s strength by the use of a rope and pulley system. In reality, a person using a pulley (block and tackle) doesn’t get stronger; the weight of the item being lifted appears to shrink. Looping a rope over one pulley and then attaching the loose end of the rope to the object being lifted changes the direction of the force, but doesn’t reduce the effort to lift it. So in effect a 100 pound ball feels like 100 pounds when only using one pulley.However, adding another pulley does reduce the effort by 50% so a 100 pound box feels like 50 pounds.
We are over half way through the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas have passed; but football playoffs, the Superbowl, and New Year’s Eve and Day are waiting to pounce on us like Mardi Gras on an unsuspecting tourist. The stress of having to watch all the bowl games, NFL playoffs, go to the many celebrations, and eat and drink beyond sanity is too much to bear for some. Adding salt to a wound, many of our employers expect us to function at work as if nothing else was happening outside the grey walls of industrial servitude. What are we to do? Give up; stay inside and watch reruns? Buy a gross of antacids and hope for the best? No! Giving up is not in our DNA and hope is not a plan (unless you are in the Federal Government). I have tested four strategies which will help you to survive the holiday season and escape to the doldrums of January physically unscathed and mentally neutral.
Last week we helped move our daughter, her husband and their six month old daughter into a new apartment. The entire move was accomplished in a single day with the help of a rental truck, dozens of boxes, and willing friends and family. I’m not certain why it is so, but moving-in always seems easier than moving -out. The new apartment was empty and clean; each appliance was new and shiny, the walls gleamed with fresh paint, and every bathroom tile was buffed to perfection. By contrast, the old residence appeared cluttered and in need of a thorough cleaning, as is the state of most apartments on move-out day. Yet at some stage in their mutual existence, the new and old apartments both were filled with furnishings the owner believed they needed, and later, just prior to a new occupancy, the rooms were emptied and cleaned. Space must be made in the old before the new can be moved in.
The group of thirty people, mostly men, a few women, and one lone boy standing off by himself, shuffled their feet to hold back the morning cold while they gathered at the base of the trail leading up the mountain. From their vantage point, everything in existence appeared to be up, and in reality, they were right. The mountain ahead was not significantly steep, but the trail was narrow and held many twists and turns, so getting lost was a real danger. The air was crisp, and the beauty of the mountain was stunning; striking rock formations of red and beige surrounded by dark green trees of massive proportions, interrupted by an occasional deep blue twisting line. It should have been a painting; maybe it was.
Gnomes tend to be odd little creatures by any standard one wishes to measure against. For instance, their classified name: Gnome. It starts with a letter that is silent; one doesn’t pronounce the “G” so why even use it? Odd I would say. Then their bodies are out of proportion. Their feet are much too large given their height, or they are too short for their large, flat feet. Their heads are also large, and are flat on top. Not just less rounded, but flat, like a rectangular shaped pancake with grey fuzzy hair on top. Of course they have stubby fingers, big knees, awkward legs and beady eyes, which rounds out the entirely odd package. But then again, none of us are perfect; are we? Given all that could be considered less-than-beautiful about a Gnome, they still remain positive in their view of life and the world, a testimate to their ability to see the greater good in almost anything.
Joe met this morning just like every other one during the last three years; he had a job to do, no one else could do it, so he will embrace today with power, excitement and enthusiasm. First though, Joe would have two cups of strong coffee – enthusiasm flowed much better with caffeine on board. There was a slight breeze this morning, gently moving his brown hair that just touched the sculptured shoulders of the foremost brick layer of his time. Of any time. He wore simple leather sandals, and a smock drawn tightly around his waist with a leather belt. Joe’s six foot two inch frame stood slowly; the coffee and dried meat nourishing the muscles for the day ahead, but the joints feeling the ache of a man much older than his thirty-three years. It was time for work; there were bricks to be set and a building to complete. Maybe today would be the end; he was never sure.
Johnny is a hard working ant, and that is high praise given that all ants are known to be hard working; however Johnny always seemed to be at the front of the line when the bread crumb is found.
“Here it is,” Johnny would scream from the front of the column, “I found the bread crumb!” Of course, ants don’t really scream because they don’t even talk, but if any could, Johnny would be the first. Each morning Johnny would set out from the colony in search of nourishment, because there were 40,000 ants to feed and it was Johnny’s job, along with 39,998 other ants, to find the food for the day. Johnny took his responsibility to his family and friends seriously.
The lady seated to my left is quietly sleeping, now that the turbulence has ended and the plane is smoothly making its way across Texas. Her neatly groomed white hair frames a lightly tanned face, with lips that support a broad smile, and wrinkles that testify to memories of a life fully lived. She boasts those fine lines at the corners of her mouth that come from smiling more often than frowning. I had the pleasure of speaking to her while she was being helped onto a wheelchair while boarding. She didn’t understand English and it didn’t matter, because she said thanks with a sincere smile and nod when I offered help. I did not need a linguist to interpret her meaning.
In the shopping mall, or in the parking lot adjacent to the mall, as we approach Christmas Day the intensity increases in almost geometric proportions. In other words, it can get pretty nasty out there. Not with everyone, and not to astronomic levels, but on average the anxiety index goes up as we near the big day. And, if you are one who believes that welcoming the New Year is the second most important day of the year, then the stress will last until sometime in January. There are moments, perhaps days, when the stress dissipates, allowing joy to sneak past the barriers of hurry and rush, bringing forth that smile for which we all search. Why are all of us so determined to self-inflict stress, drama, anxiety, and heartache into the holiday season? Could it be our unnatural, yet all-encompassing need for perfection? Everything needs to be just right. The need for “right” usually isn’t even for us; it not an “about me” complex that rules the emotional landmines cluttering the shopping, cooking, and decorating scheduled for today. No, we need everything to be just right for everyone else. It is the giving part of our celebration which provides such amazing joy and unprecedented weariness in the same instant; it’s the Yin and Yang of Christmas. I say it is time to keep the Ying (amazing joy) and throw out the Yang. I am promoting the idea that not being perfect is okay. Imperfection is the pavement on the road to happiness.