Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Good cheer in dark times

We are indeed blessed to live where we do, to be in a place where our fears are relatively minimal.


By JOELLEN COLLINS

A calendar of daily jokes from The New Yorker has provided me with a morning laugh this whole year.

One recent morning the cartoon portrayed a man entering a living room with two drinks in hand, one obviously for a woman seated on the sofa. He is saying, "Sorry I took so long. I went to the bathroom, tried climbing out the window, and got stuck."

As I chuckled, I remembered a time in my life when I was hopelessly in love and had just finished a two-week trip exploring the coast of California with the object of my affections. When he didn't return quickly from the restroom at the Monterey airport, and even after one of the most romantic times of my life, my first thought was that he had escaped me by climbing out the bathroom window. Later, we laughed over my insecurities, but at the time they were intense and, I figured, justified. Recently, I showed this cartoon to women friends of mine, and found that something as heartbreaking as my love for that man at that time of my life could now be the fodder for dinnertime repartee.

As a writer, I have learned to take negative experiences and file them away for later examination and possible material for my writing. That doesn't, of course, help much at the moment of pain, but is, at least, a reminder that time will eventually heal most hurts. There are some experiences that never lead to rueful laughter—illness, death and betrayal among them. Certainly there have been mornings when I could hardly stand awakening to the reality of sadness that I was feeling, but somehow I have learned that just maybe, someday, I can laugh at myself or whatever situation created the emotional glut in the first place.

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Even this past week, during the widespread electrical outage, I kept in mind that this was the stuff of good stories to be shared at a later time. On Christmas Eve, I joined the evening services to sing with the Episcopal Church choir. At about 10:40 p.m., several of us were returning from a mid-service buffet when all the lights in the city went out. As we inched our way up slippery paths, we counted ourselves lucky to arrive inside the church without major falls on the icy pavement. The 11 p.m. service was held by candlelight, and it was wonderful. No one burned any parts of clothes or church!

We all thought light would be restored by the time we got home, about 12:30 a.m. Christmas morning, but they weren't. As I drove into my underground garage, I knew I was in for a treacherous passage to my condo, on the third floor: the structure was pitch black. My handy flashlight, left in the car, had, of course, long-expired batteries, and I threaded my way along the length of the garage, avoiding the cement bumps at each parking place and holding tenaciously to the cars on the way, until I got to the driveway. A sliver of light from the moon guided me to the back of the building, where there would be a bit of ambient light up the stairwell. I was lucky in that several partyers were about to drive away and let me use their car lights to help in my trek. (Usually, I would have been grumbling in my cozy bed about the noise they make so late on this night of festivity.) Bless them!

At any rate, I survived and slept fitfully to discover that we were still out of power on Christmas morning. However, my neighbors and I (in a colorful array of pajamas and robes) managed coffee and good cheer, and the power came on here in Ketchum at about 2 in the afternoon, just in time for me to cook Swedish meatballs and then go to the movies. I can laugh now at my own sense of melodrama and at the silliness of the panic I felt down in that dark garage.

How lucky I am to have a gas stove to boil water, to live among lovely neighbors, to cuddle in the warm wrap my daughter gave me and not to be one of the many who had no heat or neighbors or respite from the very cold night.

We are indeed blessed to live where we do, to be in a place where our fears are relatively minimal (such as my disappointment at not having fresh-baked Swedish coffee cake at 8 a.m. on Christmas morning). Cheers!




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