On Good Friday I was preparing food for our family’s Easter celebration when a heavy cloud of dark smoke suddenly poured from my oven. As I ran across the room to turn down the heat a small flame erupted in the bottom corner of the appliance. I called for my husband to come help with the situation and just as he raced down the stairs an inferno engulfed the entire cavity. We reached for the fire extinguisher that we store in our pantry but when we attempted to open the oven to apply the fire retardant it was latched shut. Our only option was to yank the appliance out of the wall just enough to create a small crack that allowed us to spray away. Luckily our efforts worked and the blaze was soon out leaving behind a rather nasty mess and an oven that was undoubtedly ready for the scarp heap.
In the same week my daughter was happily driving her new car when she approached a red light. Of course she halted as required but sadly the youngster behind her was so busy texting that he didn’t notice that the traffic was at a standstill. He plowed into the back of her auto with full force. Her beautiful car was a shambles of its former self.
Meanwhile across town a friend went to bed admiring the wood flooring that had just been placed in his home. He was proud of the dramatic and lovely change it had made in his abode. When he arose the following morning expecting to see the gleaming planks he was instead greeted to a most disastrous sight. Water covered the area that had looked so wonderful only hours before, ruined by the overflow from a toilet that had run all through the night.
Each of these incidents were maddeningly inconvenient and costly. It would take days, even weeks to repair the damage that was so unexpected, but eventually all would be set right once again. All three of us were fortunate to have the ability to overcome our disasters, unlike so many whose lives spin frighteningly out of control. While these examples were fixable they demonstrate the importance of keeping the events that occur in our lives in perspective.
My house didn’t burn down as it might have. My daughter walked away from her accident unscathed. My friend’s home was not flooded so badly that it was rendered uninhabitable. Sadly I know people who have faced far worse.
One of my aunts who was in her nineties at the time watched helplessly as her home burned to the ground, eliminating everything that she owned including irreplaceable family heirlooms and treasures. I have known several people whose loved ones have died in car accidents, including myself. I have friends who used to live in New Orleans who came home to total devastation after hurricane Katrina. Such losses are indescribable. They haunt the psyche for years and leave scars that tend to quietly inflict pain.
We all want to think that we have a modicum of control over our lives but reality demonstrates time and again that the possibility of the unexpected happening is always there. At any given moment our lives might be thrown into utter chaos. We don’t dwell on such facts because we would be immobilized with fear if we did. Instead we go about our daily lives sometimes sweating a bit too much about the small stuff instead of focusing on our blessings. We take the food on our tables for granted. We forget to tell our family members and friends how much we love them. We grumble and complain.
Of course my husband and I were upset over the prospect of having to purchase a new oven and repair the damage to our cabinetry. We certainly might have used the money in other ways, but once the smoke had settled so to speak we began to realize how fortunate we were. Had we both been in another room our kitchen might have been far more damaged, perhaps even destroyed. In another time in our lives we might not have had the money to purchase a new oven and would have had to scramble to find a way to fix the problem. As it was, we had just received a tax refund that essentially covered the costs.
My mother lived on the economic edge for most of her life but she nonetheless always remained optimistic. She used to brag that God loved her so that He somehow took care of every problem that arose for her. Such was her faith that she told us when we were children that she had a money tree from which she would pluck funds when they were needed. She herself lived without an oven for several years because hers had quit functioning and she did not have the funds to get a new one. Rather than complaining she made do until she had accumulated enough to get a new one. She joked that by the time she finally had a way to bake again she realized that she really didn’t need to roast or broil. She didn’t allow herself to worry over things that were in reality inconsequential.
The truth is that there are people on this earth who will never have an oven or a car or a wooden floor. They live in places racked by famine, disease and war. Their lives are so out of their own control that they only have the freedom to exist, and sometimes even that liberty is taken from them. We on the other hand enjoy luxuries that we take for granted, worrying over problems that in reality don’t matter as much as we may think.
I am an admitted control freak even though I have learned time and again that so much of what happens is beyond my reach. The only thing over which I have total power is my own attitude. I can choose to stew over the randomness of occurrences or I can choose to roll with the punches and take the actions needed to set myself aright. There is little point in crying once the milk is flowing across the floor.
I take heart from the courage of the incredible people that I know such as the mother whose six month old son was diagnosed with leukemia who kept a smile on her face throughout her years long ordeal. I think of the friend whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. She has channeled her grief into counseling others and spreading healing by sharing her own story. I marvel at the woman who had to reinvent herself after hurricane Katrina at a time in life when she should have been retiring comfortably. I am daily inspired by a former student whose brother was murdered and her fight to bring justice for him and all individuals marred by violence. I think of a dear friend who daily cares for a husband sidelined by a severe stroke and dementia. All of these individuals have risen from the ashes of their circumstances in triumph. They have found new meaning for their lives and new appreciation for even the smallest of blessings just as my mother always did.
I know not what challenges will come my way. None of us ever do. My only hope is that I will find the inner strength and positive attitude that will allow me to keep my footing and keep on trucking along. It is after all the best that we might do regardless of the circumstances.