Friday, December 27, 2013

“Well, things are bad, but at least nothing else can go wrong.”

If I asked you the best way to find an optimist- not an Optimist, you'll note, an optimist – how would you go about it?
Well, consider the person for whom one thing after another is going wrong. Some are big, some are not, but they are cumulative. The person is pretty much brought to their knees, but in a last ditch effort to remain positive, they say to no one I particular, “Well, things are bad, but at least nothing else can go wrong.”

Hello optimist! I don't know about you, but in my experience, I haven't been aware of some cosmic scale that says, “OK. Enough already. Let's stop at five bad things. Two of them were really wretched after all.” How'd that work out for Job? Poop happens and sometimes it happens to you and it stops when it stops. Right? Same with good things, actually, but we tend to be less focused on that.

Let's take Sheri and Jim as an example of our poop happens theory. We've had a couple of big things go wrong in the last five months, not the least of which, obviously, was my getting cancer. But I believe we humans are built, for the most part, to cope with big things. It's the steady drip, drip, drip of little things on top of the big things that cause people to cry, “Well, things are bad, but at least nothing else can go wrong.”

Drip, drip, drip. You don't need to be bored by the details of our situation, you know exactly what I mean. We all know the feeling of those accumulated poop drippings.  

Still, The Arnolds are managing. It's Christmas! What better time to ward off you-know-what than Christmas? Well....

Monday, Dec. 23, between 2 and 4 pm, our power goes out, presumably due to the ice storm. We're pretty used to the power going out. We don't actually live in “the sticks,” but you can see them from our back deck. We will never be Mainers, but in 15 years we have become Mainers-lite. Power? Bah! We're Mainers-Lite baby. Who needs it. We have our propane-fueled Jodl faux wood-burning stove and we cook with propane gas.

Tuesday, Dec. 24, power still out, but it's Christmas Eve, man. 'Tis the season! We aren't going to be left without power on Christmas Eve. No way. But it is getting a little nippy in here. Well, we have our candles and hurricane lamps. No running water, no flushing toilets, no phones until we can charge our cells at a friend's tomorrow. But we're Mainers-lite! Right?

Christmas Day! Power still out. We've taken to chopping ice and melting it in pans on our Jodl to wash with. We are conserving our one bottle of distilled water. We start to open our Christmas gifts, but need to stop to meet some friends in town. We do, and with our cell phones charged, we head home. And lo, what light shines from yonder stickish countryside? Sheri and I excitedly take turns identifying the areas with power as we go along... right up to our road. Nothin'. This is starting to feel a little personal. Since it starts to get dark up here before 4 pm, we now finish opening our gifts in the dark. But we have flashlights, candles and... well, we ran out of oil for the lamps. But we have flashlights and candles!

It is now really cold in here. Some of the medicines I take cause me to have hot flashes. For the first time, I'm okay with that. But, alas, not tonight. Give me a break.

We each have our little batch of candles to huddle around, the heat almost as important as the light. We are both wearing sweatshirts with the hoods pulled over our heads, and buried in blankets and comforters; Sheri on the sofa, me in my recliner. Anyone looking in the window could easily have mistaken us for a minor sect of mad monks making some statement about the real meaning of Christmas.

So, we read and huddled, read and huddled, until 8 pm, when we decided it was time to go to bed. Well, that just seemed plain wrong. It was Christmas! So we talked for about another 50 minutes before we figured Christmas was close enough to over anyway, and we called it a night.

Thursday, Dec. 26, Boxing Day in the country of my birth. Another day with no power in the land of where I live now. You'll notice, not once have I said, “Well, things are bad, but at least nothing else can go wrong”? But. C'mon. Really? Still no power. People all around us were flaunting theirs. Lights on in the daytime. Christmas lights lit. Probably online chatting with friends. Have they no pity?

Back into town. Get warm and recharge cells (phones) and iPods. Sheri stays with one of our friends to take a shower and visit. Me? I welcome the dirt and discomfort. I'm so cold I can't smell anything, so that made it easier. I come home, not hopeless, but certainly with hope on the wain. And yes! No power.

It's the last day of my current course of chemotherapy which I take at home, but it still wears me out. I realize daylight is a wasting but don't really care. I flop in my chair, cover myself with my special comforter, pull my hood up over my head, feel sorry for myself for a moment or two, then pick up my book. As soon as Sheri gets home, though, I settle down for a long winter's nap wearing all my clothes, hoodie covering my head, blankets piled high. Happy Boxing Day.

I lose track of time, daylight is gone and Sheri seems to be talking to someone in the living room. But. No. Wait!! It's the TV!! Power baby! I run around and turn on virtually every downstairs' light... because I can!! I make toast... because I can! I flush the toilet and run some hot water... BIC.

I'll spare you the part about how grateful you become for the little things, but...

I'll also let you consider the karmic implications of all of this, but I have to tell you. This was the best Christmas the two of us have had in a long time. Look, I don't blame you if you think that's another load of Jim Arnold hooey, but it's true. We were cut off from our families, which was unfortunate, but we were also removed from the madness of the season. We came to realize how much stimulation we are bombarded with everyday, not just at Christmas. I wouldn't go as far as to say it was a Christmas miracle, but I might buy it as a Saturnalia surprise.

I think this year Sheri and Jim got the Christmas they deserved. Good for them.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.