*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on December 25, 2019. An image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.
About a year ago, I was running, puffing out white clouds like a jogging dragon in the early morning. Through the dark, I looked up and saw a knee-high fire on the side of the path ahead.
It was a spot where a homeless person or two usually congregates, so it looked pretty business-as-usual. But when I got closer, I saw a problem. The fire was unattended. Spitting distance to loads of lumber at a shed-building business.
I stamped out the fire. I kicked dirt on it and used a fallen branch to spread the remaining embers. And then I kept running. But because the fire knocked me off my normal course, I turned onto a road that I don’t typically run and found a dampened five-dollar-bill on the ground. I felt like the universe was rewarding me for my (incredibly heroic) firefighting exploits.
Later that day, I took our two daughters to the zoo. We came to the part of our well-worn zoo-route where the girls pester me to ride the merry-go-round. I had an equally well-worn response: “No, Daddy doesn’t have any cash.”
But not this day! I had my still-damp five-dollar-bill. The yucky wet factor was incentive enough to fork it over. The joy in their faces could’ve electrified western Kansas for twenty-four-hours.
So we went merry-go-rounding. The kids were all smiles as they selected their steeds. Just one problem. It was cold. Five of the six garage-style doors surrounding the merry-go-round were shut. And for a spinning rider, the loss of visual contact can induce dizziness.
My older daughter started to feel dizzy almost right away. I had to break the rules to dismount her to a seated position. She’s had seizures before and so I worried about one happening while mid-ride.
Still spinning on that merry-go-round was when I realized blessings and curses usually come in pairs. Up one minute, down the next, or, as Frank Sinatra put it, “riding high in April, shot down in May.”
That’s life. And our past years have followed that pattern. We lost our dog of eleven years a couple summers ago. The next day I defended my dissertation and was awarded my PhD. Our very first camping trip with our fifteen-year-old pop-up trailer we got a flat tire, but fixed the flat to a weekend and a summer full of fun experiences. We found a perfect little girl dog at the Humane Society and were smitten immediately. She then spent months painting all our floors a pale yellow. (A habit which has decreased over time, we’re all pleased to say.)
Life is what you make of it is as true as it is clichéd. It’s a well-worn sentiment that, like a favorite hammer, we should take out once in a while to help us get a job done. Especially during the holiday season.
The holidays are just like the rest of the year, but with higher stakes. They can be joyful, and blue, all at the same time. Parties and presents are great and fun, but being separated from loved ones can be particularly painful. Loneliness hurts worse than triple-tooth root canal. Not to mention that holiday anxiety too often silences the jangle in Santa’s jingly bells.
So if there’s one truth worth telling this holiday week, remember that life is jam-packed with ups and downs in roughly equal measure. As you climb, know you’ll probably trip. As you fall, know someone or something will probably catch or blunt it. That’s the part you cannot control. You never know when you’ll run into a fire, find a fiver, or sicken your kid on a merry-go-round. I sure didn’t.
But the part you can control is how you react to those high-highs and low-lows. Bounce back, and do it with a smile on your face. Chin up, Santa’s watching! You know the drill—he sees you when you’re sleeping…
And here’s hoping that when you look out the window at fresh snow this coming week, you can envision all the adventures you will paint onto the new year’s clean canvas (hopefully, with a wider range of colors than a new puppy).