I had just set up my laptop and was ready to dig into work when the phone rang at 9:23 AM. From the number, I knew it was the kids’ summer camp. Tyler had let out a few coughs that morning, so I figured it was a, “Can you pick up your sick kid,” call.
“Hi, this is Vicki from Lifetime. We just lost power and we’ve been told it’s not coming back on anytime soon, so we need you to pick up Tyler and Parker.”
For a brief moment, I was too stunned to reply. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I’m a pretty structured guy, and so having those two maniacs cast back upon me after I’d unloaded them for the day wasn’t news I received with relish. And besides, as you working folks know, we actually have a lot to do!
“Uh, ok,” I said, knowing that a, “Well, I’m paying you to watch them today so figure it out!” approach might sully my reputation among the counselors, etc. I really didn’t want, “You’re not going to believe what Tyler and Parker’s Dad said,” making the rounds.
After I got off the phone and looked at the computer, I thought about all the things I had to get done — the fact that I had to pack up the laptop, get back in the car and entertain the monkeys for the next God knows how many hours — and I started to steam. And so, as I steamed, I passive aggressively determined to drag my heels. Instead of jumping up from the table and sprinting to my car, I went through a few emails and only then shut down.
On the way to the gym (where they have camp), still steaming, I determined to stop for gas and thus gain a few more minutes of pre-chaos solitude. At this point, I was so angry, I stopped thinking about why I was angry and started to reflect on the anger itself. It was way too intense, especially for someone who prides himself on being an adherent of the Stoic philosophy. And that philosophy instructs one that “stuff happens,” and so you better not lament the fact that something unpleasant occurred (for that is inevitable), but rather move on to dealing with it. It is a very practical and useful way to look at the world and, ever since I discovered it, it’s been my operating principle.
So what the heck was I doing melting down at this little hiccup? As I reflected, I realized that I’d not looked at my Seneca or Epictetus in a long time. I’ve got the materials in both text and audio format, but they’ve been neglected. And when neglected, the foundations — the sources of our framework — begin to weaken and, ultimately, dissolve.
After getting gas, I headed toward the gym and noticed traffic had stopped on a road where there usually isn’t any. I could see two folks kneeling on the sidewalk ahead (also very strange) as I tried to figure out what was going on. At that moment (9:42 AM), the phone rang. Again it was the gym. I knew the call was going to communicate one of two things: “Where the heck are you Mr. Guerra?” or, “The power came back on and you don’t have to come.”
Luckily, it was the latter, and I made a joke to the girl on the phone about betting, “a lot of parents are happy to get this call.” She didn’t quite respond, making me sure she wasn’t a working parent with kids in camp.
Still sitting in traffic, I decided to turn around and head back from whence I’d come. As I did, I could see what the problem was — a pretty bad car accident, with the front of one car totally smashed. Obviously the folks on the side of the road had been involved. It was a harsh and even embarrassing lesson in perspective, as it gave me a sense of how silly my issue had been compared to what these folks were facing.
And so, with this little morning adventure, I’d learned that I’ve got a good amount of work to do on myself. I thought I was impervious to the unexpected, but it turns out my foundation needs some shoring up. So I’ll go back and hit the books and get things back in order so that the next time, if God forbid I have a car accident or something serious happen, I’ll respond more like the person I want to be.
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