Choosing Happy

I’m not the most diligent person when it comes to my checking account. I glance at it online occasionally, record as much as I can remember (and we all know how reliable my memory is). But when I checked it out this morning, I knew something was amiss. There was considerably less money in our account than what I had imagined there should be. And don’t think I’m not waaaaaay off on occasion. But this time, something definitely was out of whack.

I scrolled down the page and noticed four recent debits for tickets on Saudi Airlines. Because neither Chris nor I had planned any overseas travel in the near future — nor do we have current passports — I was instantly suspicious. (I’m quick that way.)

“Uh oh,” I said to my beloved as we worked side by side in our family room.

“What’s wrong?”

“Our checking account.”

“Well, that’s nothing new.”

“No, Honey,” I said. “Something’s really wrong. I think we’ve got some fraud going on.”

And so it was. In addition to the airline tickets, there was also an online charge for a NAPA Auto Parts store purchase.

As the reality sunk in, I got a bit queasy, felt a little violated.

“Who thinks it’s okay to steal like that?” I asked, somewhat rhetorically.

“Thieves,” my brilliant husband responded. It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

Chris immediately called the bank, and I immediately called Shmee — my friend and coach — to talk me out of climbing up the ledge I was eyeing suspiciously.

I was angry, perplexed, curious, and a teeny bit victimized. We ventured head first into a discussion about life and its inevitable hills and valleys.

Andrea (aka, Shmee) — as always — kept things in perspective for me. “We need to stop thinking that these ‘things’ that happen to us are out of the ordinary. Something throws us for a loop and we freak out about what just happened, what it means, what’s coming next. Things that throw us for a loop ARE the ordinary. They’re what we call ‘life.’ Life happens. How we react to it is what really matters. If we look for the shit-colored lining, that’s what we’re going to get.” (And yes, that last sentence is a direct quote. Used with permission.)

What she was saying had merit. I got it. I was trying my damndest to sink into it, to find a soft place to rest my spinning head.

“I know you’re perfecting the fetal position and cueing up the Brandi Carlile right now,” she said. “I know these things tend to bring you to your knees.” But for once, I remained standing. I wasn’t crying, wasn’t even thinking about humming “Turpentine.” I was annoyed, perturbed, a bit anxious, but Chris was handling the details, and I was rolling with it… as well as I “roll” with anything.

“Sometimes ‘bad’ things happen to make room for something better,” Andrea said. “Sometimes what you perceive as a setback is making room for a greater good. What would you have done differently to protect your bank account? Let’s say your card numbers were stolen last week when you stopped to sleep in Tennessee because you were too tired to drive any further. Would you have changed the fact that you stopped? What if you’d continued to drive and had fallen asleep behind the wheel? Wouldn’t death be worse than a little bit of stolen money?”

“So you’re saying my being alive serves the greater good?” I asked. “I could probably find at least a handful of people who would debate that.” But underneath my self-deprecating fall-back position, I knew exactly what she was saying. We can re-think and re-live any moment ad nauseum. We can wonder “what if” a million different ways. We can plan and prepare and ready ourselves for every conceivable road bump. But life will find a way to sneak in through the cracks in our armor and stick a sword in our side. And every situation in our existence, every single experience we are privy to brings us exactly where we are supposed to be. Everything that crosses our path teaches us something we need to know, something we’ve not quite yet mastered.

The biggest inconvenience in our current financial situation is being without our money for up to ten days. Our bank has been more than gracious. They’re fixing the problem, taking care of business on their end. But it could take up to ten days to re-populate our checking account with the missing funds. Thank goodness we’ve perfected the art of living with a lean checkbook. This, we can do. Ramen noodles are my specialty. I can create a veritable feast out of Kraft macaroni and cheese. We’ll extend Gus’s birthday celebration for a couple of weeks, spread the presents out. Who wouldn’t want a birthmonth instead of a measly birthday?

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the person who felt the need to take our money. And here’s what I’ve decided. They needed it more than we did. I’m envisioning a family of four — two young parents with two young children — who needed to travel to see a dying grandmother. The children had never met her, and Granny was living on borrowed time. They had to tune up the car at NAPA to make it to the airport on time. Grandma just wanted to see her grandbabies’ faces before she drew her final breath. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Did you fault Jean Valjean for stealing the bread that sustained his family? Really?

Better to think about that scenario than the one in which the greasy-haired hacker watched me enter my PIN number at a dark Tennessee gas station in the wee hours of the morning. What does thinking that way do for me? For us? For humanity? Jonathan Safran Foer would brilliantly describe that experience as wearing “heavy boots.” Why choose heavy boots when we can, instead, run barefoot through a grassy field?

We have the power to choose our perceptions. We have the power to decide how we interpret our existence.

This life is a roller-coaster of experiences. Some days up, some days down, some days vomiting elephant ears into the nearest trash bin. But I’m ever so grateful for the ride. Today, our checking account was hacked. Tomorrow, we might win the lottery. Next week, we might move to Utah. The week after, we might decide to have another baby. (Or probably not. I’m just saying, Chris, it’s still a possibility…) What a glorious adventure. I choose to feel the sand in my toes, to let the breeze blow through my hair. Life twists and turns and changes on a dime. We can fight it or we can embrace it. Isn’t a hug so much better than a slap? Who wouldn’t choose a smile over a tear?

Enjoy your journey, Saudi friends. Give Grandma a good ole’ Southern kiss from us. If you want to stop by on your way back home, we’ll keep the Ramen noodles warm.

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