Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | February 1, 2010

Attitude: The Airplane Story

The notion that people who have cancer must have been thinking cancer thoughts is ludicrous. Good things happen to grouches all the time, just as bad things happen to good, happy, lovely people. All. The. Time. And it has nothing to do with what their mantra was on any given day.

But it’s funny to think that if “The Secret” has any merit to it, then I killed a man.

See, I used to have this apartment that I shared with a certain fellow I knew from my college days. I moved out (to move cross country), and my former roommate moved into a smaller apartment downstairs. Then a lovely young couple (engaged to be married) took our old apartment.

As fortune would have it, I returned to this city about a year later. I was taking a much higher paying job than I’d had previously, and could therefore afford to take over the apartment I had previously had to share… if, that was, it was available. Ohhhhh, I so wanted it to be available. Pleeeease, let it be available. I really wanted it back again. It was a great apartment. Perfect location (within walking distance of everything), hardwood floors, backed up next to a park. Excellently maintained by the landlords.

So as I was driving into town (where I would be crashing with some friends until I found a place to live), I offered up a wish to get my old apartment back.

That’s the day that the fellow who took over my old apartment with his lovely fiance dropped dead of a heart attack. At the age of 32. That very same day.

Some would say this was a very interesting coincidence. I would be among them. Others would say it was “The Secret,” or my prayers being answered, or whatever. If so, then I suppose I need to be a little more specific when I make my wishes, because when I wanted my old apartment back, it’s not that I wanted it over the dead body of the guy who had been living there.

His fiance couldn’t afford to keep the place herself. Within a month or two, she moved out. I moved in. Wish fulfilled.

(I will also note that about a year later, while I lived in this very same apartment, my former roommate — the one who moved to the downstairs apartment in the same house — wooed away my girlfriend. How’s that for an unintended consequence of getting back my old apartment? This sent me into a tailspin of epic proportions. That’s the very same girlfriend I eventually wooed back by becoming a better man, but she did not, alas, become a better woman, and so here I am almost a decade and a half later preparing to divorce her. I really, really wanted to win her back. And I did. Be careful what you wish for, no?)

I wish and/or hope for things all the time that never come to pass. It’s the “hits” — those occasions when good fortune lines up with my wishes — that end up making the biggest impressions, however.

Which brings me to a little story that illustrates a difference in attitude between Penny (my soon-to-be-ex-wife, for those of you new to this blog) and me.

—–

Penny hates to fly. Penny is prone to learned helplessness — that sense that things are beyond her ability to do anything about. I, on the other hand, have generally loved to fly. And I am prone to actively seeking ways to make things better.

We were flying from one coast of North America to the other. This is before we had kids. This is before September 11 made air travel the joy that it is today. The line at our gate was waaay backed up, and by the time we got to speak with the fine young folks behind the desk, we learned we were in limbo. Our flight was delayed — mechanical problems with our plane, apparently, so a different, smaller plane (with a different seating configuration) was replacing the one we were originally intended to use. Since the flight was overbooked, they couldn’t guarantee we’d get seats, even though we had a seat assignment on the previous plane.

There was a very real possibility that, if we insisted on traveling together (we did), we wouldn’t both be able to get a seat on this plane, and would therefore have to wait for another flight… which, at that point, looked like the next day. Which would mean missing some important event that we were flying to (it’s been so long, I don’t recall what the event was.)

Penny’s mood went into that metaphorical tailspin. “Just great. We’re probably going to get stuck here, or they’ll put one of us on this plane and the other on another…” She listed scenario after scenario of all the things that could (and some of which were quite likely to) go wrong. And given how messed up the situation was, I might have been inclined to agree that our prospects seemed bleak.

But she was so negative that my attitude circuit breakers just snapped off. No, I thought. I refuse to go down that path. Sure, this has the potential to suck, but it doesn’t have to. In fact…

“You know what, Penny? I don’t think so. I think we’re going to get on that plane, and we’re going to have a fantastic flight. Or if not this plane, an even better one. I refuse to have a bad trip. I’m going to have a wonderful flight. And since you’re with me, so are you.”

I went up to the counter once more, and again asked if there was any hope of getting seats, etc. I was very nice and pleasant about the whole thing. Hey, it wasn’t their fault this happened. No, sorry sir, we’re still trying to figure out who gets the remaining seats, but we’ll let you know. It is looking doubtful, however.

Okay. Fine. I’m not letting this ruin my mood. I tried, apparently to no avail. But I remained open to good things happening.

Penny: Well? Are they giving us both seats?

Me: Not yet. They can’t commit to anything.

I don’t think she actually said, “I told you so,” but she may as well have.

That didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to let her grumpy ju-ju rain on my determination to have a decent trip.

“I still say that everything is going to work out fine. In fact… better than fine.”

Two minutes later — two minutes — one of the nice young ladies from behind the desk walked up to me and said, “Sir, we were able to get you and your wife each a seat in first class as a courtesy upgrade. You won’t be able to sit next to each other, but you’ll be in adjacent aisle seats. Would that be okay?”

I looked at Penny. I don’t think I actually said, “I told you so,” but I may as well have.

—–

This past weekend has been rough. Friday, in particular, with the monthly, quarterly, and annual government-required paperwork and payments all due, problems on the production-side of the business, me having to stay at the office until 4am and miss putting the kids to bed… oh, and my friend dying. Not great.

And today (Sunday) ending with a troubling conversation between Penny and me (which I may get into in a future blog post — it’s more of a scheduling problem than anything that affects the divorce, but it’s indicative of years of pent up resentment on both sides)… also, not great.

Easy to focus on the bad. Easy to anticipate problems. And after years of being mired in a marriage that, no matter how I tried, I could never make work, I must confess that a lot of the positive mindset I used to be known for has cooled off.

But a friend of mine who has known me since our grad school days reminded me recently: I’m a happy guy. As I get out of this marriage, that happy guy is going to re-emerge. My friend is already seeing signs of it. And so am I.

Yes, this weekend started off with a lot of unhappy, but it also featured a wonderful Skype conversation with a new friend, and an IM chat with another. New friends are awesome. And after I posted news of my friend Gabe’s passing, the outpouring of support and love and honor on my blog here and on my facebook page has been amazing. Words cannot convey how profound it has been for me to see Gabe’s Message re-broadcast and/or retweeted not only by my blog family (thanks Samantha and Nicki and Jolene and T’s Quest and Single Mom Mindy and anyone else who forwarded along Gabe’s message), but also by my other friends in “real life” who never had a chance to meet Gabe. Many, many of my friends re-posted the link to Gabe’s YouTube video on their Facebook pages. The more I saw this, the more I felt like the light she shone on the world still burns brightly.

Actually, before I leave that thought — thank you to each and every one of you who commented on my blog or sent me a private e-mail with your kind thoughts for Gabe and for me. It’s tough to lose a friend. But, you know what? It’s fantastic to find out you have such amazing new friends. Your support has helped more than I can tell.

But that’s all by way of saying… I need to recapture that can-do attitude. I need to reject the notion that if something can go wrong, it will. No. NO, I say. HELL, NO. I refuse to have a bad transition to my new life. I am open to good things happening. Now.

I refuse to have a bad life. I’m going to have a fantastic life. And since you’re with me… so are you!

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Responses

  1. That can do attitude is a REALLY good look for you. And I’ve seen signs of that happy Rain.

    Thank you for finding your voice, for sharing your stories, for letting me be your friend, for enriching my life in countless ways. Looking forward to many many many (yes, three manys) years to come.

    No one can ever replace Gabe, but look how many people like having a place in your life.

    Big hugs! And do I still need to remind you I’m thinking about you, or does it go without saying? *wink*

  2. True to life story from the other side (the bitchy, negative side). The family I grew up in was poor most of the time — not welfare poor, but we close. If there were 2 nickels to rub together they were gone for god-knows-what or paying OMVUI (now DUI) bills. As such, anything off the beaten path would put me into a tail-spin YESTERDAY. Case in point, when we moved to CA there was only one car. No big deal at the time. However, one time it broke down. Within 15 seconds I was in full-blown panic of getting towing (before cell phones were ubiquitous), finding a shop, having it fixed, getting to work in the meantime, and having to pay for it all. WHAT IF I WAS LATE? That my spousal-equivalent was so damned CALM really sent me over the edge. However, he had DIFFERENT resources growing up (monetary and support). He saw it in a different way. His solution, keep money in the car just in case of a tow. There. BTW, I hated him for how succinctly he solved that problem. Probably because it never addressed my fear. My fight or flight system was going off like a car alarm and his was fine. Usually I can find answers, but sometimes, I can’t. This is one of the joys of finding the right life-partner as well as the right friends. I am happy that you are now looking towards that path. However, should you have a partner freak out on you in the future, sit down and figure out WHY it really happened. Might just be weird parenting, might be a damaged operating system.

  3. So glad you “felt the love” from your blog – and real – family, and a fun chat as well, funny to actually be on email at the same time since it’s usually 3 am PT and I’m clearly fast asleep (or, actually, waking up to start my day! ha!). Glad you’re coming through a tough time and seeing the fantastic road ahead. Embrace it.

  4. I too have been listening to “the Secret” and am saying hell no to a bad life.
    I am with you all the way!

  5. Well HELLS to the YEAH!

    Those stories are great reminders, aren’t they?

    The whole ‘be careful what you wish for’ phrase has been big with me the past few years too. A Course in Miracles says, “We do not perceive our own best interests.”

    We really don’t know WHY we’re in certain situations. Could we have caused it? Maybe? I don’t know that we really know for certain what is good in our lives. Now, I stay positive that things will work out no matter what I want to happen. Now I stay positive in knowing that my current situation is for the greater good for me and those in my life. I am improving all the time. I am clearing away limitations and fear everytime I have to face one.

    I love this post and I LOVED Gabe’s message. Thank you so much for sharing it and your positive attitude.

    ((hugs))

  6. Your apartment story is like ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ only with more intrigue and fewer indistrial accidents.

  7. 🙂 I love your upbeat attitude!

    I’ve always believed (but sometimes need to remind myself) that Everything Happens For A Reason, and It All Works Out In The End. I really believe that. Even in the midst of a crappy week, even when I’m feeling sorry myself, even when I SWEAR I’m going to get kicked again, I still believe that it all happens because it should. And it can only get better from here.

  8. Ok. I’m in! =)
    That was a helluva post and pep talk. Thanks. I needed that. and, you are right on the money, INRIS.

  9. I love good ju ju. I can feel your happiness over here. Seriously…it’s all warm and fuzzy:)

  10. I feel bad for the fiance in the apartment, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t kill her man. Unless you kept sneaking bacon fat into his water supply.

    Your airport story reminds me of one of the last huge fights I had with my ex. Like you and Penny, she always used to panic and assumed the worst during adverse situations. When we were flying home from her family’s for the holidays, we had a long layover. I noticed that an earlier flight to our destination was leaving soon, and suggested that we try to fly standby. So we rushed through security to see if we could make it, but the whole time she kept saying, “We’re not going to make it.” My attitude was, “Well, let’s at least TRY! It doesn’t hurt to ASK.” When we got to the gate (in plenty of time), I asked politely if there was any chance we could get onto the flight as standby. They said no, and SnarkEx said, “I told you so,” which really pissed me off. It was her inflexible pessimism that drove me nuts. A month later she said she was thinking of leaving me. The one time she took control of any situation!

  11. i love that you are still a positive person.

    sooo…i guess i sort of noticed a recurring theme. like, you know how opposites attract right ? well my boss and his wife were completely opposites and they attracted each other, but one is very positive and another very negative. and i just seem to sense that no matter how opposite you are, it’s tough to deal with a negative person. it sucks the life out of you.

    this post really made me happy. positivity is wonderful!

  12. Just a thought on the beginning of your post, all I could think of was the episode of The Simpsons with the monkey paw.
    It’s amazing how a change in outlook changes everything. That’s why I strive to break out of my natural pessimistic view.

  13. Regarding the happy coincidence of the tenant dying and freeing up your desired apartment: What did you do to deserve the power that is allegedly The Secret acting in such an extreme way and giving you what you desired at the expense of another man’s life? Personally, I doubt that either of you was that important to the universe or any deity for it/him/her/them to step in and giveth to thou and taketh away from the tenant.

    I read in your words that you believe yourself a good person, and I sense from your posts no reason to doubt you. The deceased probably was also a good man (you provide no evidence to doubt this), and the net value of you both should have balanced out, not tilted heavily in your favor. so there has to be another explanation.

    Let’s come back to Earth. Your desires did not kill that man. You had nothing to do with his death, so there is no reason to have any guilt to hide beneath mystical wonderment. I think you just needed a little light escapism to break the heaviness that your divorce is rapidly becoming. So enjoy it while you can, for the real work resumes shortly. Just be ready when it does.

    • Of course my desire for that apartment didn’t kill that man. That was actually my original point… which I did a good job of obfuscating with the rest of the post. D’oh.

      Whereas, what happened at the airport may, in fact, have been directly influenced by my behavior, even though my behavior wasn’t actually aimed at the outcome generated. (ie, I wasn’t pleasant to the people behind the counter with the goal of getting seats in first class — I didn’t have any reason to even believe such seats would be available).

      The point I was getting at (unsuccessfully, this time around… but I’ll come back to it in future posts) is that our attitude can have an impact on the direction our life takes, but there are certain world-views that erroneously ascribe a causal relationship between intention and result.

      As for light escapism… you betcha.

  14. I loved this point you made, “I refuse to have a bad trip. I’m going to have a wonderful flight. And since you’re with me, so are you.” I think thats so great and positive and warm and your wife should have felt so lucky to have someone like that, who cared about keeping it together and focusing on the fact that you guys were together and because of that everything was going to be okay. (or at least thats how I understood what you wrote)

    I’m usually a pretty happy person too and I really value the ability to keep calm in stressful circumstances and just focus on the good. Its easy for me to get freaked out sometimes and overwhelmed when I’m going through a tough time, but this post reminded me to have a good transition to my new life too. Thanks. 🙂

  15. […] just recently posted to my site. One such phrase came from Le Bonheur, responding to my post “Attitude: The Airplane Story“: “…I really value the ability to keep calm in stressful […]

  16. I believe The Secret cannot kill a man, but is more a reflection of what you touched on in an earlier post (which, luckily for you, I read today – all of them).

    Leap, and the net will appear.

    THAT is the Secret. And your airport story. It’s all one in the same.

    And I’m so sorry about Gabe. I looked her up on FB and she seemed like a beautiful, alive person.

  17. […] found the perfect apartment in the perfect house within walking distance of a subway station, giving us full access to the […]

  18. […] that last joint session back to mind. I’ve long been annoyed by Penny’s tendency toward learned helplessness, but this runs deeper. This isn’t annoying behavior… rather, it’s worrisome. And […]


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