Some days, life can be over-whelming. You know these days – the ones in which everything seems to go wrong, when you feel like you have the anti-Midas-touch (AMT). A day when you wake up a little too late and jump in the shower to find that the shampoo bottle is empty, the milk for your cereal has gone sour, and your computer is frozen. The days when you get stuck in a 45 minute traffic jam on your way to work only to arrive at the office and find out that your boss has been trying to find you for 20 minutes, the days when everyone on the street seems to be scowling at you and purposely walking in front of you in the middle of the sidewalk slowly (a personal pet peeve) so that you can’t get around them.
We all have these days, when it seems like the whole universe is conspiring to work against you and you are unable to fight it.
Earlier this week a friend told me about just such a day.
She is a public high school teacher (yeah, I know, but there is more if you can believe it) and this is exam week which means the students are all in the crazy itchy place where they are aching to get out of there. Sunday evening she finds out that one of the other teachers is violently ill and that she is going to have to administer her own classes’ exams and help with the exams of this other teacher’s classes – good times, especially since the school decided to change their normal 6 periods to 7 in the past year meaning that the kids have 3 exams per day…and no study period, I mean, really, what do the kids need with a study period during their finals? As if this wasn’t enough, she arrives that Monday morning to find over-flowing trashcans because the janitor just didn’t bother with her room and water leaking across the floor from her air-conditioning unit; it was turning out to be a seriously AMT day.
Throughout the day, things become progressively more irritating. The technician who comes to check the air-con says that he would have to turn it off completely to be able to work out what needs to be fixed (which is not something you want to do in the deep South in late May), the substitute teacher for the other class can’t find all the exams and has to have the students help to actually get them together, and one of the classes that she has to help take-over is full of obnoxiously rude-pants teenagers (more than the normal amount of teenage rude-pants-ness) who mouth off to her during the entire period.
ANTI-MIDAS-TOUCH, people, anti-midas-touch.
Finally, her last period comes in and at this point, she is ready to pull her hair out. The class is jam-packed with her last period students taking their exam but towards the end of the period extra students from an earlier class start trickling in because they still had to finish up their exams (she had allowed them a 30 minute study session since the school had taken away their study period…teachers are amazing). As they are all coming in and settling in, she begins to explain to them about why there are extra students, about why there is over-flowing trash, about how she needs good behavior because an earlier class was really awful…etc. In the midst of this, one of the students raises their hand and points to the floor, “the air-conditioning is leaking.”
The students later told her that she turned the same color as her pink skirt.
“I know,” she shouts. “I KNOW! I. Know. But do you want air or a dry floor? Air? Or a Dry Floor?! Because there is nothing I can do about it! Nothing!”
I think this moment was the proverbial “straw.”
“And really you need to be quiet,” she keeps going. “Because I’ve got these kids finishing their exams in here, and they deserve quiet, and wouldn’t you want quiet? It’s not all about you, you know! Now, go get a mini-whiteboard or start communicating through interpretive dance because You. Can’t. Talk.”
Air or a dry floor? Cake or death? On the AMT days it can be really hard to see that “cake” is on offer. Often, we just put our blinders on and zoom in our camera lens and only see the negative, frustrating things that are happening.
“What are you talking about? There is no cake here!”
We feel like the universe is attacking us and our only choice is to put our heads down and muddle through. To make matters worse, we often don’t realize that other people around us are having trouble locating the “cake” as well.
After my friend told me about her freak out in class, I asked her how the students reacted; I figured a group of teenagers, in the midst of final exam stress probably gave her grief. This is what she wrote to me:
“And they’re shaking with laughter (and a small amount of alarm, I think, because there were some very wide eyes), but they got quiet, and I got the extra kids settled in chairs and working and start to get everything sorted, and after seven or so minutes I look over, because there has been movement, but no noise, in my peripheral vision, and…
…they are doing “The Wave”* around the room. Without making a sound.
I laughed so hard, I had tears.”
Some days you can find “cake” in the unlikeliest of places and some days those around you will take the time to hand you some, you just have to choose to take it.
After all, it should be a simple choice, right? Life is either cake or death.
Thank you to my friend for letting me steal her story and her words!
*For those of you unfamiliar with “The Wave” here is the wiki link and a YouTube video: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave_%28audience%29