Friday, July 19, 2013
The Other Shoe
Monday, July 15. I have new assignments coming in. Jack started band camp at the middle school he'll be attending in August and he's doing well. Jay and I spent a fun (if busy) weekend in the mountains. Okay, I'm just going to admit it: My life is good right now. There, I said it. Why do I hesitate to broadcast that things are good? Perhaps it's because I'm fearful that if I'm too boastful about the good in my life, something bad will happen just to take my happiness down a peg. Even as I write this, I'm holding my breath just a little waiting for that other shoe to drop. You know the one. It's the 400 pound loafer that comes crashing down just when you think you're in the clear. Or maybe it's a boot ... or it could be a flipflop.
Regardless of the type of footwear, just what does this saying mean? Apparently the adage was coined about 100 years ago. Here's the origin as related on worldwidewords.org:
A man comes in late at night to a lodging house, rather the worse for wear. He sits on his bed, drags one shoe off and drops it on the floor. Guiltily remembering everyone around him trying to sleep, he takes the other one off much more carefully and quietly puts in on the floor. He then finishes undressing and gets into bed. Just as he is drifting off to sleep, a shout comes from the man in the room below: “Well, drop the other one then! I can’t sleep, waiting for you to drop the other shoe!”
"Waiting for the other shoe to drop" means something adverse has happened and there's a very likely chance that some other bad even will occur soon because of a direct relationship between the two occurrences. As in, you have two shoes, so if one hits the floor with a thud, it's reasonable to anticipate that the other one is gonna thud too.
But if I'm making good choices and doing good work and there's no reason to believe that anything adverse is about to happen, why do I still anticipate the worst? Answer: The Upper Limits Theory.
In their book, "Centering & the Art of Intimacy", Gay Hendricks and his wife, Kathlyn (both psychologists) write about the phenomenon they call "the upper limits." This law of human dynamics states that we can only stand so much happiness before we undermine ourselves and find something about which to be miserable. The authors contend that we derail our happiness as adults because we learned as children that happy occurences are often followed up by unhappy or humiliating ones. For example, you win the spelling bee, but trip on your shoelaces on the way to pick up the trophy.
Of course, Buddhism teaches that our suffering (or dissatisfaction) in life is caused not by an event but by our perception of the event. When I attach my happiness to a particular outcome, I'm bound to be disappointed. The dropping of that other shoe is inevitable, so why decide that it's bad? Why take it personal? Why lament over something that is completely beyond my control?
Friday, July 19. On Wednesday I banged my head on the Upper Limits. Doh! Although Buddha never said, "If you want to be happy, never, ever read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) provided by your insurance provider," if he had Blue Cross, he might have made that the Ninth Fold in his Eight Fold Path to Enlightenment. Suffice to say, I read mine. Turns out I owe $1200 for lab tests sent by my doctor to a lab outside my Blue Cross network. Ouch! Suddenly I'm spiraling downward in a funk. Yes, I'll appeal the claim and maybe, just maybe I'll get some relief on that bill, but nothing takes the wind out of my sails like an unexpected major expense.
I've learned from my Buddhist practice that becoming emotionally bent out of shape over setbacks doesn't help anything. I don't always lose it. Sometimes I can turn a loss into a win without much effort at all.
For example, last week, the power went out during a big summer storm. Jack had a friend spending the night and pretty soon the boys had run down the batteries in their game devices. Luckily, I found a big flashlight in the basement (thanks, Jason) and we opened the cupboard in the living room that holds all the board games. No batteries required. Had the power stayed on, the boys would have holed up playing Minecraft all night and I would have contented myself lounging in bed watching "Glee" on Netflicks.
But this adverse condition produced a great outcome. I love board games, always have, so I was not-so-secretly thrilled that the boys were enthusiastic not just about playing, but about including me. First we played Monopoly, which went well until Jack's friend realized that Jack was about to take him to the cleaners. (Jack's a Monopoly shark.) We switched to Yahtzee, which we were content to play until the power came back on five hours later at 11:30 p.m. We all cheered as the utility man restored the lights and—even more important—the air conditioning. Then Jack made a request for the one board game I abhor.
"Let's play Life!" he said.
Have you played The Game of Life lately? You start off with college debt. Then you're asked to randomly choose a job and move around the board into the shark-infested waters of law suits and mortgages. Plus you're heaped with expenses depending upon the number of plastic children you add to your little plastic convertible. Oh, and you have to pay taxes and losing your job means selecting a whole new career. Windfalls do arrive, but in the form of winning the equivalent to America's Got Talent. And no, I am not making this up! I find the whole thing depressing.
"No thanks," I said to Jack. "I'm living that game, I don't need to play it."
"You always say that," said Jack.
"Because it's true," I replied.
With the power restored, the boys plugged in their devices and returned to the electronic world they were building in Minecraft while I sorted the play money and put away game pieces. At least in Monopoly there's only one shoe. And when it drops, it might land on Boardwalk or Park Place.