Mind & Body

Lessons Learned From Difficult Days

Difficult Days

Last week was pretty difficult. Monday morning, I discovered that my car was being sluggish when I tried to start it. I thought perhaps the engine was just cold after a weekend of being parked, but it seemed sluggish again that afternoon, when I headed home from work. So I made an appointment to take it into the auto shop the next day.

But the next day–you guessed it. Dead. So dead, in fact, that it wouldn’t even jump-start with the help of my husband’s car.

That was Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, I had jury duty. I drove into downtown San Antonio before 8 a.m., fighting rush hour traffic on my way to the courthouse. I spent most of the morning hanging around the jury room, waiting to learn my fate and feeling pretty disgruntled.

But, as it turns out, those difficult days taught me some pretty valuable lessons.

A little kindness goes a long way.

The mechanic who showed up to help me with my car was incredibly kind. He didn’t act as if what I was saying couldn’t possibly be true; instead, he pointed out that newer cars are so efficient, they often don’t show signs of trouble until it’s too late to do anything about it. He also checked to make sure my battery was charging properly before he took off, so I’d know what kind of service I needed.

Once I got my car to the garage, the customer service rep acted as if it were her fault that my battery had died. “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” she said. “I’m going to get you in and out of here just as soon as possible.”

I’d been dreading my trip to the garage because, in the past, they haven’t been particularly interested in good customer service. (My car is still under warranty; otherwise, I’d have taken it elsewhere after my first visit.) But both that service rep and the mechanic who helped get me on the road made me feel so much better about the fact that I wound up missing half a day’s work. And all it took was a few kind words from each of them.

Our stories are connected, whether we see those connections or not.

I’m a professor. I spend my days with other professors, and with young students who went to college straight out of high school. (Once in a while, I’ll have a student who came back to college later in life.) Given this routine, it’s easy to forget how many variations on the human story there are.

But I wound up spending most of my Wednesday with a grandpa names Jesus. We were seated next to each other in a jury panel, then almost immediately dismissed for lunch–so we ended up eating together in the courthouse cafeteria. Jesus told me all about his family: about his wife of more than thirty years and their grown children (both of whom went to college, though he and his wife did not), about his grandchildren (“We worked with them every day, so they knew how to read before they even went to school”), about the group of sisters-in-law who now live together in the house where they grew up. That house, as it happens, is just a few blocks from the university where my husband is a professor. That university was established to serve the surrounding neighborhood, which includes Jesus’s family.

I would never have met Jesus in my regular life, but our stories intersected in so many ways. When we were sent home later that afternoon, he said “Goodbye, Miss Professor! And thank you to you and your husband for being educators!” I thanked him for that, wished him a good afternoon, and headed home. Truth be told, I wound up feeling kind of sad that Jesus and I will probably never cross paths again. That’s a rare feeling for an introvert like me.

Getting through difficult stuff can be liberating.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I don’t believe we have to go through difficult circumstances in order to grow. In fact, I think it’s entirely possible to learn from positive experiences. Putting a good spin on bad stuff is just a way of excusing its presence in our lives–and frankly, I think that’s dangerous. It encourages us to put up with a lot of negative situations and see them as tests of will. Instead, they might well be situations we should get out of as soon as possible.

But once in a while, getting through a tough moment reminds me of what I can do. Driving into downtown San Antonio during rush hour traffic isn’t my idea of a good time, and it probably never will be–but I did it last week. My knuckles were white, but my own hands were on the steering wheel. Rather than ask my husband to drop me off at the courthouse on his way to work–as I was tempted to do–I drove myself.

And now I know I can do that. It’s not a big deal, but it’s one more thing I’ve learned about myself. The next time there’s something I’m interested in doing downtown, maybe I won’t hesitate to go.

I tend to think of life as one long process of getting to know yourself, but last week–well, that one was full of lessons.


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