As my younger brother Tim frantically searched the house for his high school history paper due the following day, I rolled my eyes in disgust. This wasn’t the first time the dog ate his homework. It was a habitual occurrence, and, being his older sister who fixed all of life’s mishaps, he tried to make it my issue, too.
“Jackie, have you seen it?” he hollered, rummaging through the papers strewn all over his bed and on the floor. “I need your help!”
“What makes you think I’ve seen it?” I growled, becoming increasingly agitated. “You need to be more careful with your stuff.”
“Can you please help me?” he begged. “It’s due tomorrow, and it’s 10 pages long. I don’t have time to do it again.”
Grinning like the Grinch who stole Christmas, with my lips curling at the edges and eyebrows arched in a perfect upside-down “V,” I stood at his door, enjoying his pain.
“Sorry, pal, not my problem,” I said.
Growing up in a family dominated by men who were bigger, stronger and even sometimes a little smarter than me, spitting those words – “It’s not my problem” – while in one of my nasty moods put me in the position of power; meaning, they were on their own. After all, I always had to figure out my life, so shouldn’t they? But years later those words would take on an entirely new meaning.
Recently, I was in a particularly grumpy mood at my office at Alain Pinel Realtors. You know, one of those woe-is-me, I-hate-my-life-type days where everything was going sideways. I had a challenging buyer and, on top of that, my hair was misbehaving badly. OK, maybe the hair thing was a little silly, but nonetheless it kept me from functioning at full speed.
Just when I thought my mood couldn’t get any worse, 200 pages of a disclosure packet for my new listing flew out of my hands, scattering in all directions.
“Need some help?” my colleague, Lynn North, asked, seeing me sprawled on the floor.
Looking at this woman I affectionately call “Susie Sunshine,” I wondered how she always stayed so upbeat. I was sure she’d had her bad days, too, but one would never know it. There wasn’t a day she didn’t smile or have a kind word to say.
“Lynn, what’s your secret?” I asked. “You’re always so happy.”
Grinning, she handed me my papers and, with her infectious laugh, answered, “Oh, I have my days. But when I find myself upset, I ask, ‘How bad is it really?’”
“Seriously? That’s all it takes?” I wondered aloud, knowing how I love to wallow in my funks.
Patting my back, she then said something deeply profound.
“When I stop to think of all the suffering in the world today, and God knows there’s suffering, I simply say, ‘Whew, not my problem – today.’ At this moment in time, my kids are healthy; I have food to eat and a warm bed at night. For today, life’s true tragedies are not my problem, and so I smile.”
Returning to my seat, I found myself reflecting on her wise words. Putting the disorganized stack of papers on my desk – a pile that would take the rest of the day to reorganize – I looked at the picture of my four beautiful kids smiling back and thought, “Thank you, Lynn, for this lesson.”
I have problems. I have lots of problems. But the horrific ones aren’t mine, at least for today. And for that, I’ll smile and be grateful, too.