What to Do When You Crash and Burn



On New’s Year Eve, I crashed and burned so hard that I am still recovering here at the end of January.

It all started out so well.

My son and I were at First Night in Tacoma. December 31st was the kind of cold that made everything hurt from the tips of my nose to the 4th chamber of my heart even when wearing a fluffy coat, gloves, and a hat. It was clear, it was crisp, and the frigid air made Quinton and me want to race to the next indoor place.

So we did.

We ran from the Tacoma Art Museum (which has very little for 5 year olds to do), hoping to get to the Washington State History Museum before we iced up like Anna in that climactic scene of Frozen. We held hands smiling and laughing as we zipped along toward a group of boring people walking calmly up ahead. It was one of the high points of 2015, and I knew I would remember the moment long after Quinton grew into a young man.

Then the tree root under the pavement happened. 


Scene of the crash along with the guilty tree

Before we made it to Union Station, Quinton tripped and swung around in front of me. It was all I could do not to squash him flat onto the concrete.

We lay there stunned until Quinton began to sob.

“It’s a bad one, Mom,” he said holding his eye.

I felt like I’d done the splits without warming up after about 15 years since my last successful attempt.

I knelt on the icy pavement, holding him as the boring but uninjured people walked by while asking if we were okay.

I nodded. Quinton sobbed a little louder.

The night slowed down after that. We hobbled to the history museum, only to find it was not ‘participating’ in First Night.

Then we made it to Harmon’s Restaurant and drowned our sorrows in a big plate of fries.

Quinton’s eye healed in a few days. I’m still doing physical therapy for my hip and it’s slowly getting better.

But you know what?

It was worth it. 

That moment running down the sidewalk when 2016 was right out in front of us while my son raced with me to meet it will stick in my mind.

Maybe that initial joy will stand out more because of the freezing cold, the crash, and the burn of the pain.

I would do it all again.

(Okay, maybe next time I would avoid the tree root.)

In fact, the writing projects I’m in right now have great potential for pain and loss. Still, I plan to keep running down the creative pavement because I feel as alive as a five year old on a cold clear night when I do. 

May you all know great highs and console one another over french fries when it all falls apart like it sometimes does-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM






Driver’s License Guy of Awesome


bowling pins

The Driver’s Licence Guy at the Department of Motor Vehicles where I live has an impossible job. He sits at the front of a snaking line of people in unhappy moods because they must stand in his line. He tells them they have to pay money to have a picture taken that they will invariably hate, or they can’t take their test today, or some other thing they don’t want to hear. He says the same things an unimaginable number of times. And then he gives them a number to sit down with for the next stretch of waiting.

It’s an impossible job, but when I went to the office of doom to renew my license this birthday year, I saw the man who made it look possible. He talked to each of us individually, taking the time to answer our questions and make us feel like he cared. He smiled. He told us how many people waited in front of us for our particular numbered problem. At one point I heard him talking with a young lady and her mother about taking the driving test instead of paying 25 dollars for an ID card. He thought it would save her money.

The Driver’s License Guy felt unreal. And, yet, he was also the most real person in that stifling waiting area. People smiled at him and he lifted the mood of the place with uncomfortable plastic seats and bells ringing while numbers flashed on the boards.

My favorite scene with Driver’s License Guy happened when he gave the picture taking lady a break. He called those of us waiting for the digital camera over toward the counter. He read our names, took our papers and then stood the first lady in front of the camera. While he waited for her photo to process, he set up the next guy, laughing and joking, keeping the grouchy mumbling people fascinated by what he was doing against our wills. I enjoyed watching him move us around and juggle one part of the process with another like a guy flipping bowling pins through the air.

At one point, he called a lady back when her picture popped up.

“Oh, we need to do it again. You’re not going to like that one.”

It wasn’t even irritating that he held me up a bit longer with the retake. I loved that he cared enough about the face on her card to let her have a do over.

As the regular picture lady came back from break, he left us happier than before.

I’ll be starting classes again on the 23rd. I am hoping to channel some of the Driver’s License Guy’s energy to see me through and work some of his magic into my days this quarter.

“You owe me,” he said, smiling and pointing to the lady with the retake. And I do believe he’s right. What I’d like to do to repay him is pass that joy forward this school year. Please wish me luck. Testing and registering with school paperwork can feel like tossing bowling pins, too.

The Schadenfreude of Samson and the Mudita of Mustardseeds


Blog Picture - joy

Last Sunday Pastor Ann Berney at Puyallup United Methodist Church asked the children what biblical story they liked best. Most of them chose stories like Noah’s Ark or Jonah and the Whale — stories that pull many children in. Sitting in the pew in my favorite spot by the stained glass, I asked myself what my favorite story was as a child and is now as an adult.

I’m still not sure about now. If you can believe it, I think it might be Job because that poor man struggles with his faith so much. I can relate.

But I know without a doubt that my favorite story as a child was not as cute as the Ark or Jonah with animals in pairs or the thrill of being swallowed by a fish.

No. My favorite story was Samson and Delilah. We had a big picture Bible when I was growing up, and I remember the artist’s pictures of Samson with his flowing dark hair, sitting next to the conniving Delilah who then cut his hair and robbed him of his power so his enemies could enslave him. I read that story repeatedly, and I think my mother might have wondered if letting me dwell on those pages was a bad idea. But it held me enthralled.

There was the idea of a man falling under the spell of a woman. There was the magic of long hair that made him strong. And most of all, there was the ending where he grew his hair back without anyone noticing and pushed the temple over to crush everyone.

Recently I was journaling about the German word ‘schadenfreude’ and had an ‘ah-ha’ moment. The Samson ending I once loved had a huge helping of schadenfreude. That expressive term holds two German words tucked together: schaden (damage) and freude (joy). The person feeling schadenfreude feels happy at the failure or damage that happened to another person because, somehow, the sufferer deserves what he or she gets.

The best example in my everyday life involves the car driver who cuts me off or passes me in a hurry then gets pulled over by a cop. I feel schadenfreude if I see this (or imagine it because I’ve never actually seen it happen). I remember learning this word in German class and marveling for the first (but not last) time that another language could have one word for something English needs to explain in a whole story about car driving or temple shoving over.

So Samson felt a moment of schadenfreude before the temple crushed him, too, I suppose. And my young Bible reader self sat fascinated.

I found a new expression recently, though, that is much more of an uplift.

‘Mudita’ is a word in Sanskrit that means joy at others joy or success. I came across it recently while I struggled with jealousy and was thrilled to learn a word that expressed the opposite of schadenfreude. In an article by Anne Cushman, I found that mudita starts with celebrating the joy in my own life and then extending that celebration out to others. It involves realizing that there is enough for all of us and looks something like the quote from the Dalai Lama: “If I am only happy for myself, many fewer chances for happiness. If I am happy when good things happen to other people, billions more chances to be happy!”

In Christianity, Jesus expresses this concept with his instruction to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ And if I look one more time at my favorite Biblical story, it would probably involve the mustard seed or the moving of mountains with less shadenfreude and more mudita. As much as I loved those pictures of Samson with the power hair I envied, I’ve gotten to a point where I need more joy and ‘billions more chances to be happy’ sounds like a good deal to me.