6:32 pm. Saturday night. My head is pounding…
I’ve wanted to sleep since noon. But a full day of family gatherings kept me soldiering on. And, now, as I pinball my way through the sea of people crammed along the endless meandering furniture bound path known as IKEA, I’m contemplating popping a cap in the slow moving guy’s ass in front of me and wondering if it’s actually possible to get road rage while shopping for a dining room table.
What feels like hours later, now melting and sweating through two layers of winter coats, we finally arrive in the car and I start the drive home. I’m in a pissy mood.
But, a few minutes in, once we hit the highway, everything changes…
Thoughts return to the conversation that moved me from room to room in a century old mansion just off Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. My 23 year old cousin had just returned from a nearly 4 year tour as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan. He still had a bit of time left, but he was on a few week’s leave after a series of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) had torn into his vehicle and left him with a concussion…three times.
When he arrived in Afghanistan, he told me, it was 130 degrees and his gear weighed close to 100 pounds. In Iraq, he said, when the sandstorms came, it looked exactly like it did in the movie The Mummy. A billowing wall of superheated airborne sand tumbled in like a massive wave. Afghanistan, he said, was different. There was a thick haze of dust that just never left.
He’d sweat pounds of water into his clothes every day and the sand would blend with sweat to form a crust around him. There was no escaping it. Sometimes for days. Out with his unit on patrol one night, he was trailing with his NVGs (night vision goggles). One minute he was walking along, another he was falling into a black well, stopping his descent by wedging his body against the walls, chest deep in watery muck. He didn’t want to know how much deeper it went. Screaming, his buddies came back and pulled him out.
It wasn’t unusual for him to go a month or more in this state, without a shower or change of clothes.
Not long before arriving home, his mom told my wife, he’d seen a friend in his unit blown apart when he stepped on a IED. One minute he was there, the next, gone. We talked on and off for hours. He shared what he’d experienced. Never once did he complain.
And, here I was, bitching and moaning about the headache I’d developed spending too much time blogging that morning, my tired body (I stayed up later, then woke up at 5am with an idea for a post), and how the slow moving traffic at IKEA was harshing my mellow.
As I drove on, I felt like a total ass. Indeed, I was.
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what you believe to be your own private momentary hell.
To give importance and attention to things that seemingly aren’t breaking your way. Things that, reframed in the context of what actually matters in life and what others have to endure on a daily basis, don’t even rise to the level of remotely trivial.
Thank God I had that conversation with my cousin, lingering, giving context to my so-called bad day.
Moments like that deliver much needed perspective, they snap us back to what matters, to how incredibly fortunate we are and to how small those breaths of discomfort really are. They give us the space, the clarity to reframe, to consciously choose to flip the switch from pissy and tired to grateful and alive.
I wonder if you’ve had moments like this? I wonder if you’ve discovered the ability to create this same spontaneous shift in mindset, without needing the occasional whack in the head as I do?
It’s something that’s very much on my mind…and my plate, as I prepare to embrace and expand my life in the year ahead.
And, as I seek to serve as a living example for my daughter.
So, what about you? Have you had these experiences?
Moments of extreme contrast that snap you back?
As always, would love to learn from your thoughts and insights in the comments below…
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