I don’t know about your life, but in mine everything seems to break down at once. It’s as though everything in my surroundings has been woven into a complex Rube Goldberg machine and once one part breaks, the rest inevitably follow. This past week was one of those times when everything seemed to break around me. As I struggled to stay positive and centered in my busy schedule, I realized that all breaks are not the same and do not require the same approach.
Adapt to It
The domino run started with the garage door. The motor burned out a couple of weeks ago. As we are currently in a rental, we had to wait for the landlord and are now waiting on an appointment with Home Depot to have the mechanism replaced. Considering that I don’t park in the garage (or even next to the garage, as that would require going downhill), you would think that this would not be a major inconvenience for me. You’d be wrong, however. No garage door means that I have to navigate the front door with my hands full of bags and beverages several times a day. The front door that has a sticky lock and a companion screen door whose jaws snap shut faster than my pit bull’s. Then, in the dark of the early morning, I have to navigate a poorly-laid stone pathway in my heels without spilling my coffee on my work clothes.
My first few times with this new routine were a disaster. Coffee was spilled or left on the front porch. The keys would somehow become glued in the lock and require archaic incantations to be released. The screen door snatched groceries out my hands and attempted to amputate my legs as I wrestled with my bulky gym bag. Over a few days, however, I learned how to prop the screen door open just so and I mastered the precise twist of the key that unlocks the door. I’ve developed a hopscotch dance around the loose stones on the path and I’ve even managed to get the coffee to the car without spilling.
I have adapted to the situation as it is. Its repair is out of my hands, so complaining about the current state of the garage door is worthless. The discomfort is temporary and I am now much more appreciative of how much a simple door makes it easier to come and go from the home. I’m still looking forward to Home Depot’s visit tomorrow, though!
Work Around It
My classroom is pretty high-tech. I have a mounted projector and an interactive whiteboard that I use for instruction. This means that I need digital copies of documents and answer keys in order to show them to the class. As a math teacher in the era where physical textbooks are obsolete, this is something that I do several times a day. I have a desktop scanner in my room that is connected to one of the student computers. This scanner worked reasonably well last year, but was very slow and cumbersome. This year, it decided not to work at all.
For the first couple weeks of school, this was a major stressor for me. Something that should only take a few moments (the scanning of an answer key, for example) could take over an hour as I sought a functioning and available scanner. Not a good use of time.
The tech guy finally made it around to my room but he didn’t sound very hopeful about the chances of a full resurrection of my scanner. But he offered an alternative – an iPhone app called TurboScan that would allow me to take a photo of the page using my personal phone, convert it to a PDF, and email it to my work address all within a couple minutes. I no longer cared about the slumbering desktop scanner taking up space in my room. It became obsolete with the $1.99 purchase price of the app.
Sometimes a breakdown requires looking for a novel solution to a problem. It can be the push we need to move beyond the status quo and figure out a new way of doing something.
I’ve written before about my car. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because as soon as I wrote that post, my car has demanded attention in the form of a new timing belt and water pump (planned), new brakes (unplanned), and a new power steering pump (unplanned). After that expensive summer, I thought I was home free for a while. Apparently my car did not receive the message. While on the interstate at 6:30 am on Tuesday, the temperature gauge sprinted to the right, burying itself in the red. A stressful situation for anyone, but especially so for a teacher at the beginning of the school year. Repair shops open after I am at work and close before I leave. I have no lunch break and cannot take time off without a sub. My boyfriend, who usually helps in situations like this, was out of town. Luckily, through the assistance of several people and a mad dash to a nearby shop, the issue was temporarily fixed (water added directly to the radiator), diagnosed (bad water pump – yup, the one that was just replaced), and will be repaired tomorrow with the help of the boyfriend (if you’re keeping track, that’s the same day as the new garage door).
In the midst of all of this, I began to bad-mouth my car, wondering if it was time to let her go. But then, I suddenly realized, that including the original purchase price and all of the repairs and maintenance over the life of the car, I have spent an average of $1,500 per year on the vehicle. Even if I spend several hundred dollars on her now, that ratio will probably only improve over the next 100,000 miles everyone says she’ll last. Sometimes it’s best just to fix what is broken and realize the value that is still inherent within.
Break downs can happen apart from the objects in our lives. By Friday, my body decided to join this great damaged party as it fell prey to the new pathogens arriving on the hands of the students. Instead of running 20 miles yesterday as prescribed by my marathon training program, I took 20 naps. Experience has taught me that these August bugs are viral, meaning there is no “fix,” as antibiotics are useless. Instead, the only prudent course is to rest.
I was able to alleviate some of the frustration over a “wasted” weekend when I learned that my library (finally!) has books available on Kindle. I never thought I would get used to ebooks, but I love the ease on my wrists (those heavy books hurt after a while), the lack of clutter around the house, and the built-in nightlight for reading in bed. Although the selection is still somewhat anemic, I was able to download and read three books yesterday (Sh*t My Dad Says, The Help, and Juliet Naked) without a trip to the library. Heaven for a sick bookworm.
On a side note, I have noticed that since I added green smoothies to my daily diet, my illnesses are greatly reduced in frequency and severity. Since receiving a Vitamix from my boyfriend as a recent birthday gift, I am now pretty much living on smoothies:) As long as the Vitamix doesn’t break…
Let It Go
I’ve talked before about Maddy, my cat. My ex and I got her in the early years of our relationship. She has been with me through everything and is now happier than ever with her new daddy and her pit bull snuggle-buddy. Unfortunately, her age is beginning to show and she is demonstrating signs of kidney failure. This is a break that cannot be fixed. Her body is simply wearing out. At this time, she is still happy and hungry and does not appear to be in any discomfort. We are addressing her needs – more water and more absorbent litter – as we watch her for signs that it’s time to make a decision. This is the hardest kind of break of all. I cannot fix her. Only recognize when it is time to let go.
It is natural for things to break. We only become more stressed when we fight that reality. Accept the break and recognize what path is indicated in each situation. Use the breakdowns to highlight the blessings within your life and to find novel solutions. Just because it’s broke, does not mean it’s over.
photos from Wikipedia (door and car), Flickr (scanner), and Amazon (book cover)