It was the worst vacation ever! The baseball game at Turner Field was delayed by rain, the water coming down almost sideways, soaking us as we huddled under the canopy, trying to figure out why we were still here. As we went back to the hotel that night, in those days before GPS, we got hopelessly lost, driving down the streets in seedy parts of Atlanta, wondering if we’d ever emerge alive. Then, as we left town the next morning, I was distracted as I drove and didn’t notice that the traffic light was changing until it was too late to avoid bumping the car in front of us. My bumper just kissed hers, but there were two tiny circular marks from my license plate screws on her rubber bumper, and she insisted that a citation should be issued. Right about then, I discovered that my driver’s license had expired three weeks before that. I was moaning about going to jail and the kids were crying. It was the worst vacation ever!
Whoa! Back the truck up a bit! Can we talk about this a minute? We had a week’s vacation, split between Atlanta and then on to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. The episodes I described took up a grand total of one, maybe two hours of the entire week. One week of Six Flags, Underground Atlanta, World of Coca Cola (avoid the “Beverly” drink at all costs!), a great hotel (really cheap price), a wonderful time at the beach (even got in a couple of romantic walks in the moonlight with the Lovely Lady), miniature golf, amazing all-you-can-eat seafood, and a stop in rural Georgia to visit with a fantastic bunch of people having a family reunion at the lake. It was one of the best vacations ever!
Why is it that whenever we talk about that vacation, we remember the negative events, no matter how small a part they really played? If I stop and think for a little while, the great time we really had comes back into focus, but the image that jumps to mind initially is sitting by the side of the road, waiting for the cop to write the ticket and/or throw me into jail, the latter of which he elected not to do. I think he was really sorry that we had to get a citation at all, since we were on vacation in his city. He seemed happier as he wrote her one for driving without insurance. Regardless, for years I’ve allowed that to be the image of our vacation that year.
Today, a young friend brought the issue back to mind for me, unaware that she was doing it, of course. She has spent the last few days in an island paradise, reporting on the fun activities including water sports, relaxing on the beach, and the like. Today it took her sixteen hours to make the trip home, a maddening journey that should have taken less than half that. I found myself hoping that this wouldn’t be what she remembered of the great adventure she had enjoyed over the last several days, only to see that she has already expressed the opinion that this wouldn’t tarnish her memories in any way. Good for her! But, it brought back memories for me.
Tonight, I’ve been replaying that long ago vacation in my head, and I think I’ve got it straight now. I’ve decided that it was a great trip, with a couple of minor glitches which ought not to outgrow their level of importance. One little event springs to mind that helps me to put the negative into perspective. As we tried (unsuccessfully) to stay dry at the ball field, waiting for the storm to pass, our attention was drawn down to the baseball diamond, which was covered by a huge tarp. Of course there was a lake of water standing on the plastic, but a couple of the Atlanta Braves ballplayers, bored by the lack of activity, had made their way out onto the infield. They parodied a pitcher and batter as they stood in the ankle deep water. We cheered them on as the faux-batter smacked the imaginary ball and took off, running the bases, splattering water as he ran. Finally rounding third base, the would-be pitcher pantomimed catching the ball from a non-existent outfielder and it was a nail-biter to guess who would get to home plate first. As we cheered and yelled, the runner ducked beneath the clumsy tag and slid into home, his chest pushing a wall of water which mounted high into the air in front of him. Talk about turning a disaster into enjoyment! These guys weren’t going to let a little rain get into their souls and dampen their spirits. And they carried the crowd with them, right out of the dark of individual disappointment into the light of corporate amusement and glee. What a great public service they performed that night!
We need to find the good in negative situations, not in a trite way – not even ignoring that some events are actually really bad. It just helps if we can tell the difference. Too often we allow our joy to be stolen from us by the thieves of inconvenience and annoyance. Those are red herrings, put in our way to make us lose our focus on the good things that have been given. Don’t be fooled. Time spent in enjoyment with loved ones should be a memory we hold close; the disappointments thrown in here and there can be discarded as nonessential. It’s not that they didn’t happen, just that they don’t matter nearly as much as we allow them to. Too Pollyannaish? You know, the little girl who thought that the serious sermon texts should be discarded for the “glad” texts in the Bible, which didn’t make people feel bad? You might think that’s what I’m saying, but I also have a text to support my conclusion. “…if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” It’s significantly more beneficial for us to dwell on the positive and good, than on the negative.
I’ve spent an enjoyable couple of hours tonight, going through the other good memories of that great trip. I may have to remember to talk about “the rest of the story” the next time the opportunity presents itself with the family. Maybe we can even laugh about those other little inconveniences…
As Clarence reminded George Bailey in the movie, “You see, George. You really had a wonderful life!” Okay, that was Pollyannaish!
“Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist the hole!”
(McLandburgh Wilson~American poet)
“There are some days I practice positive thinking and other days I’m not positive I am thinking.”
(John M. Eades~American author)