Sweatin’ the Small Stuff

I used to get annoyed easily. It didn’t take much to make me throw my hands in the air with a frustrated look to show the world just how irritated it was making me. You could spot it a mile away. My animated reactions to trivial things were just another aspect of my often-brooding personality.

It could happen anywhere. I remember stomping around pumpkin patches in a huff or moodily sulking in the corner of a party. The locations didn’t matter. All that mattered was that something had gotten under my skin and, in that moment, I felt justified in my misery.

BIRU9819.JPGStrangely, I can’t recall many, if any, of the reasons for these mini-tantrums. You’d think something that would wreck my trip to a petting zoo would be big enough to remember. It wasn’t.

Looking back now, I know that it was never the annoying situations that made me angry. It was my need to be angry that created the annoying situations. If a cup of juice spills on the floor, you clean it. Then it’s gone. That takes five minutes. If you stew over it and knock over a second cup in frustration, it doesn’t. Next thing you know, you’ve wrecked your mood for the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t ruin events for my family. I mostly just ruined them for myself. Many times, I kept my annoyances internal. They were for me to mumble about in my head or focus on more than I should. To this day, there are pictures of me that look completely happy, yet I can recall my feelings of frustration at the time hidden behind the plastic smile. Almost anything could cause this. Loud-talking people in the waiting room are good examples.

I ran into that exact situation about a year ago at my daughter’s swim lessons. I was sitting in the dark observation room behind the one-way mirror. Huddled together on folding chairs amongst the other swim folks, I just wanted to zombie away on my phone and occasionally search for my kid’s bobbing head in the pool.

On one side of the room was a very vocal woman and her quiet friend. In a voice that echoed off the walls and in our heads, she went on and on about all the things in the suburban reality show that is her life.

Oh my gawd. So I told him, Marie. I said $500 on ham? You’re gonna spend $500 on ham? You better cook it, Tony. You know he bought that damn barbecue, right? Who does that? Who just buys a barbecue? Yesterday, he told me…

Occasionally, Marie would throw in a, “Oh no, and what did he say?” It was the only thing that kept the dialogue from becoming a monologue. The whole room endured the conversation and, well, it was kind of annoying.

I rolled my eyes and kept swiping at my phone but the older woman in front of me was not. Alongside her granddaughter, I watched as her anger grew. She kept staring across the room at this loud hammy woman with exaggerated looks of aggravation. You could tell by her bugged-out expression that she was waiting for her opportunity to start a confrontation. That’s when her granddaughter asked a seemingly innocent question.

What time is the lesson over, Grandma?

And that was her opening. Grandma sat up in her chair and, in a raised voice, declared.

Soon, honey. Then we can get out of here and stop listening to RUDE PEOPLE!

Despite her best efforts, no one noticed. Her voice trailed as she reached the end of her statement and “RUDE PEOPLE” was all but missed by everyone in the room. The outburst accomplished nothing and the barbecued ham lady babbled on. Even worse, her granddaughter had no idea what was happening and made the situation even more awkward for her angry granny.

What do you mean, Grandma? Who? Who are rude people?

The grandmother, clearly embarrassed, fidgeted in her seat and tried to move past the situation while her granddaughter’s questioning persisted.

Who’s rude? Grandma, who? Me? I’m rude? Do you mean me?

I was one of the only ones to witness this whole exchange and couldn’t help but laugh. Had it been a few years earlier, that grandmother would have been me. I would have been the one seething over something that was over within 20 minutes and didn’t directly affect me. It would have spoiled the swim practice, left me feeling humiliated, and been all I talked about for the rest of the day.

image1 (2)That would have been before my sudden heart attack and quintuple bypass, though. It was before I got my much-needed reminder that life is fleeting and could end at any moment. It’s before the medication, lifestyle changes, and basic understanding that every day on this planet can be your last and spending it angry should be reserved for times that matter. Rude strangers, late party guests, and broken remote controls aren’t enough to waste whatever days I have left on this planet.

I know where it came from for me. Growing up, I saw a lot of annoyed adults flipping out over tiny things. As I got older, I accepted that as the way the world worked. Anything that interrupted my precariously happy flow sent me over the edge because I felt that I was “allowed”. Allowed to what? Have my day ruined by something meaningless? What a great thing to be allowed to do.

I’ll never forget the first time I knew things were different with my temperament. It was a few months after my surgery when I first spilled that cup of water. Rather than screaming or yelling for someone to come and help me, I did something different. I stood there and watched as it came pouring out on the floor and onto my socks. Motionless, I stared down until the final bit of liquid dripped out before getting a dishtowel to clean it up. It took less than a minute. I thought to myself, “Well, that was different. I guess that’s who I am now.”

I think about that spilled drink a lot and try to live my life like that every day. If you sweat the small stuff then it becomes big stuff. Next thing you know, it’s all big stuff. Everything is a major hassle and it seems like you are constantly battling huge problems even when you’re not. Who wants to live a life like that? It’s when you finally learn to separate the easily forgettable annoyances from the major ones that life gets easier to handle. It did for me and I’ve never been happier.