Thursday, May 21, 2009

Relatives are great

Once, when going for a walk in New Jersey, something interesting happened -- the leaves of some trees I had been admiring changed color! To be truthful, they only kind of changed color. (And I'm pretty sure no one else noticed.) Maybe that's confusing, so let me explain:

For a considerable portion of my walk, these leaves made up the only green within my field of vision. Though the thought hadn't crossed my mind at the time, nothing struck me as out of the ordinary about the leaves' color. But then, as I continued, a field spread out before me. A green field. Suddenly, after comparison, the "perfectly normal" leaves from before stopped being "green" and became "blue green".

Yes, yes, I know. The physical color of the leaves did not actually change. But how I viewed the color did. When my only point of reference was the "odd" shade of green, I didn't have anything to compare it against to realize it was not actually plain Jane ol' green.


In college my freshman year, I made the acquaintance of a tall, surfer-dude kind of guy who never went anywhere without his roller blades. Needless to say, I was shocked to later learn he donated his wheels to the Hare Krishnas and was going to join them. I don't think I'll ever forget how he explained why this was the right thing for him.
"It's like you've spent your entire life in the rain and didn't even realize it until someone handed you an umbrella."

This reminds me of two stories.

The first is about a community where everybody constantly complained about their troubles. The local rabbi comes up with a great plan: everyone should put their troubles in a sack, hang them on a branch of the town's biggest tree, and then, after looking through everyone elses' collection of sorrows, decide which one to take home. In the end, everyone goes home with the same bag they showed up. Not only were all the other bags just as full (if not fuller), the troubles they were full of were completely unfamiliar.

The second story is one of my favorites. It's about a guy who goes to his rabbi for advice about his family -- they are so noisy he can't even think. Week after week, the rabbi tries remedy after remedy, each requiring that the guy bring an additional source of chaos into his house -- the family cow, the chickens, a goat, his in-laws... you name it. Just when the poor guy is at his wit's end, the rabbi instructs him to take everything out, leaving just him and his family. The following week the guy returns to the rabbi, elated. It turns out that a house, occupied by only his immediate family, is a quiet, serene, and peaceful place relative to a house packed full with farm animals and bickering parents.


Isn't it cool how just viewing one situation in relation to another can change how you feel about one or both situations?

If you're in the mood for some change, I recommend inviting some "relatives" over.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One of the many ways I am annoying

My boyfriend collected coins as a young boy. He selected prized pieces for his collection using a rather novel approach; Coins with a picture of a buffalo, or an owl, or any other animal were held in high esteem and valued more than coins with pictures of bridges, or presidents, or any other thing.

Recently, his coin collection came up in conversation. Since it had been missing for quite some time, he speculated that the collection had been stolen. The last time he could remember seeing any of the coins was before his parents' move a few years back.

His conjecture continued. It involved someone in connection with the movers, a thief or thieves out to make a quick buck. Worse yet, whoever took the coins obviously didn't realize their true value was sentimental. What a waste!

Imagining this one out of a myriad of possible scenarios, my boyfriend grew visibly agitated. "I loved that coin collection," he went on. "And I'm sure half of them ended up as rejects at a Coinstar machine."

This is where I get annoying. But I strongly believe that if we don't know for certain what happened in a given situation, why gravitate toward a made-up scenario that makes us upset?

I offered up alternatives for my boyfriend to imagine.


Recently, during a trip home for Christmas, my wallet and I parted ways. Though I normally don't carry much cash on me, on this particular occasion I had fifteen $20 bills, two $25 Chili gift cards, one $50 Best Buy gift card, and one $50 Visa gift card stuffed into my bill fold. Needless to say, the loss was a bit of a bummer.

Instead of envisioning some slimy thief pocketing my belongings, I intentionally imagined some little kid receiving a gift they might not have received if their down-on-their-luck parent hadn't run into such a windfall or some over-tired, under-paid, poor soul buying themselves the new business outfit they needed to apply for a better job. I also played around with the idea of "loss". Perhaps I would have spent what had been in my wallet at a Casino and on a nice meal with my family. Either way, what I had originally intended to do with that money would have been no less fleeting than what actually happened to it.


Maybe during the move, a small box bounced out of the moving truck and onto the sidewalk, where it was discovered by some young boy walking home from school. Maybe this kid had been having a rough year. Maybe this kid loves animals too, and when he opened the box to discover the coin collection, he felt like the luckiest kid ever. Maybe he let the local police department know, and after the specified waiting period, he was told he could keep what he had found. Maybe sometimes he looks through the coins, imagines who it was that put such a neat collection together, and quietly says "Thank You".


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