Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us..." (From A Tale of Two Cities.)
Byron Katie tells us, "The worst that could happen is the best that could happen, but only always." (It's that "the universe is friendly" deal.)
If this reasoning makes you feel a little schizophrenic, you're not alone. We don't call it The Work for nothing.
Here's my recent encounter with that thing I call hellacious grace:
Thursday night, Sept. 27: I perform a routine software upgrade on my already troublesome new laptop. The machine makes an eerie noise, the screen goes black, and it shuts down. Naturally, it is fifteen minutes past the time my computer's manufacturer's customer care reps shut down for the night.
I try all the rebooting tricks I know. Look up user forums on my spare (very spare, and dying) older computer. Try calling my friend Loren, who knows everything about computers and most other things; he does not return my call.
I am up all night obsessing.
Friday: After a long time on hold, I manage to get ahold of telephone service representatives at Lemon Computers, Inc. Not one, but several of them, since the first one sends me to a "specialist" who knows no more than the first rep, and then, finally, to "customer care," a.k.a. "Where we send the irate customers who won't be appeased by us underpaid kids."
The news is not good. I have to send the computer in for repairs, which could take a few weeks, or get to the nearest Lemon store, a half hour away, and me with no car or public transportation option to get there. My data, I'm told, is likely lost. Lemon's warranty does not cover data loss or retrieval, even if the computer's malfunction is caused by a faulty product or the company's negligence. I look into nearby data retrieval companies; if they can even do the job, they will charge me almost as much as the computer itself cost. Most months, I don't earn what a computer costs.
I reach several friends, who commiserate or give redundant advice. One asks if I want to do The Work; sounds great, but my story is, I don't have time, I have more important things on my plate here (and besides, I'm right, damn it).
Friday evening: Loren finally calls back, and says he supposes he could take me to the store in Los Gatos the next day, but suggests we try a few other things first.
I am overwhelmed, and at a loss. I hadn't gotten to figuring out a system for backing up my files, because I was spending most of my computer time trying to coax out or exterminate the software and hardware bugs it shipped with. I don't have my precious manuscripts, my workshop notes, my online address book, or my client data, and I have a full schedule ahead. How will I be present with my work, for my clients?
I go to the movies, see a weepy chick flick, eat pizza (my first meal since lunch the previous day), and try to forget.
Friday late night through Saturday morning: I toss and turn. Finally it comes to me that I could be doing The Work as long as I'm not sleeping or tinkering with my Lemon laptop. Investigating the belief, "I am dependent on my computer," provides me with some enlightenment. I don't take care of my business or myself when I believe this thought. Obviously I can't sleep. I hate the people at Lemon. I hate the very machine I feel dependent on. Without this thought I would not presume disaster; I would do what's in front of me; non-computer tasks. I'd do all the research I've been doing but without all the drama. I turn the thought around. Wow. Truly speaking, I'm not dependent on anything; I'm still breathing. I can reconstruct whatever information I can. Creative oeuvre? I must not need it anymore. If the universe is friendly, what wonderful thing will take its place?
I don't feel better, but I do have some perspective; enough to get a couple of hours of sleep.
Saturday morning: I am, if not joyous, amazingly and entirely surrendered to what is. Que sera sera. I am going to live my life in the meantime. I go to my improv class; it is entirely enjoyable. Loren is there; he comes home with me to examine the "patient." After awhile, I ask if we could please just go to the Lemon store; he hesitantly, but kindly, agrees.
It's a perfect day in the South Bay. There's no traffic on the way to Los Gatos, taking us only 20 minutes. The Lemon store is hopping with young people needing their mp3 players fixed. The technicians can't see me until 3:30. Perfect; obviously it's now lunchtime. I treat Loren to delicious Vietnamese food, we window shop for housewares and clothing in funky-chic boutiques, and I purchase a half pound of some of my favorite childhood treats—mocha coffee beans, red Swedish fish, "likkerish" whips, and Sourpatch fruits—from the penny candy store.
We return to the computer shop. The tech, God bless him, gets me up and running in minutes. I get my data backed up on the spot, and my future backup solutions are mapped out for me. I tell the tech genius about a wireless problem I've been having, unsolved several attempts earlier by the phone "specialists." My Genius diagnoses the problem in a flash, and takes my computer to the back where it will be sent to the "depot" and returned, all fixed and cleaned up, straight to my door in a week's time at most.
Without my computer taking up most of my time, I clean my apartment, swim, use the phone, watch Netflix. The mended laptop arrives in just five days. My business survives, as does my life's work, without my even needing any of it
Is there an example from your life of "The worst that could happen is the best that could happen?" Send me your comments; I'll compile some of your stories for a future post.
P.S. Upon reading this, my friend, Rev. Tami Coyne wrote, only half joking: "Wonderful article. There's something about computer problems that make major existential crises--like the inevitablitity of death--seem irrelevant."