Smart Alex

It was the Monday to beat all Mondays.

Missy’s cold had developed a cough that sounded suspiciously like bronchitis.

A basement pipe had sprung a slow leak, leaving a mess to be mopped up by the time the drip was found.

One of our eight birds, a tiny zebra finch named R2 (his sibling is D2) was found dead in his cage. No obvious reason, just … gone.

To paraphrase the commercial, we were stressed more by 11 a.m. than some people get all day. Forget staying in bed. I just wanted to hide under it.

It was more than Monday. It was an Alexander day.

Those of you well-versed in 1970s children’s literature know exactly what I mean. You’re the ones who have read the timeless classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

I grew up on the book, which lovingly details all the minor horrors that can happen to a grade-school child in one 24-hour period: waking up with gum in your hair, biting your own tongue, slugging someone who’s teasing you and then getting the blame. It’s an endless rain of trouble, culminating in Alexander’s wish that he could run away and live in Australia.

The curious thing about the book is there’s no magic resolution. No neat tying-up. Just a reassurance from Mom that everyone has bad days, “even people in Australia.”

Sometimes, it seems, all you can do is go along and ride it out. Even people in storybooks.

I’ll add just one thing. If you’re lucky, you also remember the difference between bad and annoying.

We’ve all had plenty of annoying. Go online and you’ll find the litany, mine included. Changes to Facebook. Self-service grocery lines. The latest celebrity nuisance, hyperinflated to Major Media Importance.

It’s safe enough stuff to vent at, I suppose, and we’ve all got to let off a little steam here and there. But too long among the gripes and grumbles can cost you perspective. You forget what bad looks like, the stuff that causes real pain, real discomfort, real problems and loss.

And then one day you see the pipe. You find the bird. You hear the rasp.

You realize where your priorities need to be.

And maybe, maybe, when the day is done, you realize how lucky you are after all.

Because it’s only after the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Days that you can remember that. That’s when you remember the friends who offered help and the strangers who offered understanding. Like the county official who helped straighten out Missy’s paperwork on short notice. Or the smiling friend provided conversation and laughter till 10:30 at night. Or the thousand other small blessings that usually slip by unnoticed – until the horrible days throw them into relief.

I’ll be honest. I still wouldn’t repeat Monday for the world. I don’t think any human in their right mind would.

But the lessons. The perspective. Those I’ll keep.

Those are the treasures buried in muck, waiting to be uncovered. And everyone needs them.

Even people in Australia.

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