When Jay and I were dating, back in high school, we used to have this thing we called “recovering gracefully.” It happened when we were on a date and the Ben and Jerry’s shop would be closed when we got there, or we planned to go to the beach and it started raining on the way there. Would the date be ruined, or could we recover gracefully and come up with—and implement—a “plan B” quickly and without ruffled feathers? That, indeed, is the question.
I like change, for the most part. I admit that I am not a furniture-re-arranger-type, and that once I think things are “perfect” I don’t mess with them any more. But on the whole, I like to try new things, meet new people, and go new places. Unfortunately, I don’t change gears quickly if I am not the one who planned the change! When things go wrong, I am more likely to be found standing in the rain, as I was today, shouting, “What do you mean you left the duffle bag at home?!”
There have been multiple opportunities presented to our family lately to practice recovering gracefully. The pancake incident is one, as told in an earlier essay. Last weekend, I baked two loaves of bread on Friday morning, to last for the weekend. I didn’t remember about bringing them until we were on the boat and I was unloading groceries. I made an ugly scene, not unlike our four-year-old daughter when she can’t find her favorite stuffed animal. I did recover and managed to bake a fresh loaf on the boat, but I can hardly claim gracefulness. Then on Saturday morning, I went for a sail in the dingy, a ten-foot Walker Bay with a floatation collar, oars and a sail kit. It was lots of fun once the wind picked up and I got to really practice filling my sail with wind and tacking and jibing, but the wind changed on the way back to the boat and it did not “blow me right back home” as Jay had promised. I was forced to row, which was made more difficult by the broken oarlocks, the boom, which kept hitting me in the head, and the rudder, which I did not know how to remove. Never mind about my deflated mood and the feeling of panic as I tried to avoid being swept out to sea! (That may be a small exaggeration. I would merely have been swept out into the Manatee River, which does eventually end up in the sea.) It was humiliating to say the least, as folks were standing on the dock watching me struggle. I am not sure if I recovered gracefully, but I did not completely lose my sense of humor, and I did get home.
This afternoon, realizing that we did not have our duffle bag containing all the clothes we packed for the weekend, it seemed for a few moments like the end of the world. Jay’s response to my exasperated shouts were, “Then fix it.”
“I can’t,” I shouted back.
“Then stop hollering about it and come on.”
That did it. I snapped out of it and from then on, I began to recover gracefully. Ideally, I would begin the recovery the moment I realize something was amiss instead of freaking out first and apologizing later. When we leave for a vacation, or a weekend away, the response to “I keep feeling like I’ve forgotten something,” is “Do you have your wallet?” There’s almost nothing I have forgotten that was not at least temporarily replaceable. And so it was today, that as I walked in the rain down the dock toward the boat, I remembered that there was an outlet store right next to the grocery store, and I could easily replace two changes of clothes for several people at a small cost, and buy groceries at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. I also took stock of the things we didn’t forget and began to be thankful. My recovery could have been quicker, but you might still call it graceful, because grace also means offering another, though undeserved, chance.
I am glad we are given these “opportunities” frequently, because it keeps us on our toes. And we are learning the antidote to disappointment and frustration: thankfulness and joy. What is an adventure if it is not encountering the unexpected? That is both for good and ill. True, the pleasant surprises are easier to handle, but if one can learn to recover gracefully, there is good in even the most unpleasant ones as well.