Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Unexpected

Robert Burns, the Scots poet, wrote "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough," in 1785. One of the more famous lines from that poem is "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men -- Gang aft agley." The English translation of the Scottish is even more familiar, "The best laid schemes of mice and men -- Go often awry" It is the "Gang aft agley" part I was thinking about the other day when I was watching the news. A four-story, 200-unit apartment complex caught fire, and when the smoke cleared it had been transformed into a three-story, 100-unit apartment complex. Every person in the complex had to be evacuated, with only minutes notice. One resident experienced the urgency firsthand, as the fire doors closed just after she exited the building. All the residents were safe; none were able to take anything more than the clothes they were wearing. They experienced a "Gang aft agley" moment for sure.

We all know what it's like to have our plans take an unexpected turn: the stalled train delaying our commute into work; the overnight snowstorm sidelining our vacation flight; the flat tire making us late for our daughter's recital; the Army buddy dropping in at work and taking us out for a quick one; the computer screen turning blue, the hail storm busting out the car window; the teddy bear stopping up the toilet; the conversation starting out, "Daddy, I love you ...."

Each time our plans "Gang aft agley," we can react in one of two general ways: accept what happened and move on or get angry and bog down. I observe that many times guys tend to respond with anger. Many are the times I have witnessed guys giving some gate agent a spirited piece of their minds over a delayed flight. I have also seen a fair amount of steering wheel abuse by men stopping suddenly because the car in front of them decided to prudently brake for a yellow light. Some of the most interesting words I have heard were uttered by men whose plans "Gang aft agleyed."

I mention this because I tend to be one of the guys who blurts out his frustration to those within earshot, especially if I am with my wife in the car. Just the other day, a lady parked directly in front of the doors of a store, causing me to stop and go around. I launched into my familiar speech, asking her who she thought she was and why she deserved such preferential treatment, taking pains to call into question her mental abilities as well. Just then I saw my wife smiling alongside me. As I concluded my heartfelt diatribe, I pointed out that smiling at an angry husband probably isn't the best thing for a marriage. I then stopped and calmly asked her why she was smiling.

She told me I reminded her of her dad when he got angry.

That stopped me cold. Do I want to be remembered as the man who was mad or the man who was able to face unexpected changes with calm and resolve? I would certainly rather be remembered as the man who could handle life's delays in stride, always finding a way through it.

Responding with a cool head to the sudden and unexpected hitches that come our way just makes sense.

How about you? How do you want to be remembered when life throws you a curve ball?

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