We were enjoying a gorgeous, New England day at the beach recently when the wind suddenly picked up. In the blink of an eye, our umbrella decided to have its own fun and unleashed itself from its sandy hold.
The beach was not overly crowded so the closest people to us were about 15 feet away. There were about eight or so in our group and while two of us jumped up and ran for the errant umbrella, the rest of us unleashed a deafening chorus of, "Watch out!" and "Heads up!"
The woman in the group next to us was already standing when she saw the umbrella catapulting in her direction. Instead of reaching out to stop it or, perhaps, getting out of its way, she stood frozen -- hands on hips -- glaring angrily at our group as if to say, "How could you have let this happen, you idiots?" I don't completely disagree with the sentiment, but her reaction was odd considering there was a 5-foot metal spike headed right for her.
Her skewed reaction reminded me that the way we choose to respond to things makes all the difference in the creation and sustainability of our own peace and well-being. Instead of grasping the potential danger or figuring out how to protect herself, this woman chose to be enraged. At her own peril, I might add. Perhaps this woman -- like many of us -- needs a reminder that sometimes life throws us lemons. And we can choose to be sour about it or we can squeeze them, add some sugar and enjoy.
It may be unfair to extrapolate based on this one, small incident, but something tells me this is how this unhappy beachgoer moves through life. She's miffed. And we're all guilty of that sometimes (road rage, anyone?). But people do dumb things. We hurt each other knowingly and unknowingly. Accidents happen. Beach umbrellas sometimes have minds of their own. That's life, lady.
Here are 5 ways you absolutely have control over your reaction to the lemons. This is important because knowing you have choices can help you live healthier and breathe easier.
1) Most of life happens in the gray. Embrace this and you're halfway there. Anyone out there who hasn't subscribed to this? You've got a long, frustrating life ahead of you. If you expect to have a perfectly loving spouse, perfectly behaved children and perfectly perfect everything else, it's time to reevaluate. Why? Because if this is your starting point, you're living life on the unhappy tightrope between bliss and disaster. If you can be comfortable with the ups and downs and nuances of relationships, you're in for a way smoother ride.
2) You're going to get hurt. Yep, you. We humans are pretty much imperfect and the more we entangle ourselves with one another, the higher the likelihood we will be wounded by another imperfect human. When you can, take each slight on its merit. Sure, there are some things you might not choose to forgive, but many things are forgivable. When someone hurts you, that doesn't make them an awful person. It just means what they did was awful. Separate a hurtful word or deed from the entirety of the person and you will find more peace in relationships than you ever dreamed possible.
3) It's not always about you. The woman on the beach took the flying umbrella as a personal affront. And guess what? It had nothing to do with her. The wind velocity and direction, the consistency of the sand, our perhaps less-than-perfect implantation of the umbrella -- all of these factors contributed to the outcome. Fact is, we're all stars of our own show and we make choices based on the plot direction of our doing. We make many of our decisions based on our own needs and desires. Because someone's decision hurts you, it doesn't mean that was their intention -- or that you were even on their radar.
4) Forgiveness is a choice. Always. If you're wondering if you can forgive, it's because you care enough to try. You care so much about the relationship that you're pondering the option of forgiveness. If that's the case, know you still have skin in the game. Let's face it, if you were done with this person, you'd be done. Wondering if you can or want to forgive someone is, in its own way, a serendipitous opportunity. If you're entertaining it, there's probably some really good reasons why. Go ahead. Forgive when you can.
5) Life can be short. And sometimes a whole lot shorter than we'd like. I have two close friends who died way too early, leaving loved ones devastated and bereft. My guess is you've lost someone or know of someone who was robbed of a long, healthy life. Next time you feel you've been insulted or hurt or given the short shrift, think of those who didn't have the opportunity to make positive changes and choices. It's a wake up call like none other.
Follow Abby Rodman, LICSW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/abbyrodman