Ski Bum Sagacity

ski bumYou’ve likely heard this before, or something similar. That you cannot always choose your circumstance, but you can choose how to respond to your circumstance. Of course, this is eye-rollingly trite in the face of earth shaking circumstances such chronic health issues or imbalanced brain chemistry. But it’s still something I need to pay more attention to if I truly desire to live with more joy versus wallowing in complaints and discontent.

I was reminded of this recently when the hubs, the kids and I made a trek to Colorado for a ski weekend. (Another blog post is forthcoming about the importance of taking vacations.)

This trip was our second family adventure to a mountain resort, and like the first, we wanted to tie in a visit with the hub’s brother and his family who live in Denver. Last time, we stopped at their home for a visit, a meal and an overnight stay. This time, our schedule and anticipated holiday weekend traffic meant we would only connect with extended family if they ventured up the mountain road to get to us. They agreed and we all looked forward to a dinner out in Keystone, CO.

I’ll jump to the end of the story and say it worked out really well. The eight of us, who see each other only once or twice a year, had a terrific evening. We enjoyed a great meal while catching up and sharing stories.

But before it went well, it didn’t, at least for my brother-in-law. Picture this. He lives in Colorado but doesn’t downhill ski. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy skiing. He just doesn’t enjoy the bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads leading to local ski resorts each weekend. And he’s not a fan of typical tourist shenanigans.

Now to be fair, most locals living in any tourist destination have a love/hate relationship with tourists. I get that. But here’s the thing. His mood was less than, shall we say, cheerful when he first arrived on our doorstep. He’d encountered people driving poorly, larger crowds than normal and inadequate signage that led to a bit of a parking lot fiasco. Frustration rattled him. We’ve all been there.

Over dinner and a few beers, we laughed about his experience. I recall saying something like, “Since you live here and know there will be traffic and crowds because it’s a holiday weekend, you could prepare yourself for these aggravations by deciding in advance to remain calm, relaxed and patient. Or, because you know there will be traffic and crowds, you could choose to be angry before you even leave your house, and then get even angrier once you encounter what you already knew you would.”

He laughed and said, “Obviously, I chose option B.”

Now, I’m super glad it all worked out and that we had a great visit. But I can’t help but wonder how often we all choose option B. When we know something is going to be difficult or distasteful, why do we choose in advance to respond negatively? Or is it sometimes possible to visualize those things that might make us uncomfortable and try to prep our attitudes in a more positive direction? I think this is part of a bigger issue–our relentless desire for control–even when it comes to circumstances we cannot change or improve. When we can’t change it, we get angry about it, as if our anger has any power over the universe.

Now forgive me if I sound as if I’m babbling some psychoanalytical self-help mumbo-jumbo. It’s just that many of us already know what our triggers are. Mine typically include tardiness, rudeness, lack of sleep, lack of coffee, being too cold, being too hot, being too scheduled and sometimes feeling like I don’t have anything to wear.

And yet, we willingly turn over our joy by getting riled up in anticipation of our discomfort-thus tripping our own triggers on frustration, stress and anger. This is nothing less than self destruction. And when you’re married or around other people–mutual destruction. Gah!

There must be a better way. Maybe one better way looks a little like a Colorado ski bum even if saying this will surely make my brother-in-law cringe. I’m not talking about recreational indulgence of the Colorado variety. But I am talking about taking more deep breaths. Look around. Most of what we get cranked up about either isn’t as important as we think or is beyond our control anyway. Ski bums by definition are actively choosing a lifestyle of joy, eschewing negativity and being open to adventure instead of insisting upon control. I’m hoping to bring a bit of that Colorado ski bum attitude back with me into daily life. Although my days may look different than a ski bum–what with children, a job and a more stereotypical suburban existence, I’m still hopeful that with a little practice, prayer and patience, I can choose better reactions to stressful situations.

It is my prayer that you (and my brother-in-law) can get better at this too.

Standard

Vacation Trees

A little bit of Paradise among the Vacation Trees.

A little bit of Paradise among the Vacation Trees.

One of the best things my mother ever did for me was put me on an airplane to visit my grandfather in California when I was 8 years old. My grandfather had moved from Michigan to Palm Desert, Calif., a land of better weather and economic opportunities, and he was missing me. He asked my mother to send me along for a vacation–something I surely would not have done for my own children, as I’m too anxious and overprotective. But the experience was life changing for me and I will be forever grateful that I got to experience another world that summer and many more summers to follow.

Palm Desert is a land of manicured golf courses and wealthy snowbirds, a place perfectly suited to Grandpa’s business model of condo caretaking. When I wasn’t splashing in his backyard pool or curiously inspecting his eco-friendly rock “lawn” dotted with palm trees, I’d go along with him to inspect the homes of vacationers who’d left their desert dwellings to escape the summer heat. On rare occasion, I’d be introduced to one of these migratory species, people from places like San Francisco, Oregon, Washington and Canada. They wore wild sunglasses, sipped cocktails, collected art and kept golf carts in their garages. And they seemed to love Grandpa almost as much as I did.

For lunch, Grandpa and I would often stop at a restaurant for burgers with my Uncle Cory–Grandpa’s youngest of three sons. Cory followed Grandpa to Palm Desert in the 1980s along with his young bride, all of them evolving into “desert rats” whose winter wardrobes devolved to a few pair of long pants and light jackets. I envied them. How they got to live in eternal sunshine, where an ice rink inside a shopping mall was considered an entertainment oddity. But mostly, I enjoyed their company. These men were constants in my life. Always glad to see me. Always sad to see me go. I loved them, their stories and their smiles.

Grandpa and Uncle Cory have since passed on from their desert paradise to a heavenly paradise. Grandpa in 2008. Cory this past February. Grandpa thought he’d lived too long. Cory surely didn’t get to live long enough. But then, life is never a constant. We are touched and changed by people. And we try to pass along some of the joy we’ve encountered from others.

I introduced the hubs to Palm Desert over 20 years ago. We’ve regularly visited all of our married life. Our kiddos get to see the same mountains, fruit stands, country clubs and palm trees of my youth. I tell them stories about their great Grandpa and their great Uncle Cory.

The California Clan

The California Clan in 2005

Once, when our children were little and we’d exited the airport after landing in CA, one our children peered up at the unusual landscape and asked, “Are those vacation trees?”

We laughed. Ah, yes. Palm trees will forever be known as vacation trees in our family.

This Palm Sunday, we’ll go to church and wave palm fronds in worship, remembering the humble yet triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem shortly before his arrest and crucifixion. We will proclaim, “Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.”

I will wave my palm frond toward heaven and say a prayer of thanks for two men who introduced me to vacation trees. Palm fronds will from now on be to me, a symbol of a little bit of paradise found on earth and its fullness yet to come.

 

Me with Uncle Cory in Palm Desert, CA.

Me with Uncle Cory in Palm Desert, CA. circa 1984

Standard