Unexpected rain, souvenirs and things we can’t change

By Sarah Allen Contributing Columnist

June 19, 2014

We all know the overused phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We know it, we say it … but we all do it anyway. Judging is a part of human nature that we can’t seem to shake. We say you can judge someone by the friends they keep, by first impressions, and by appearance.

Though we all know those indicators don’t work. If you really want to know what a person is like, you have to do just that – know the person.

And one of the wisest ways of doing that was described by the late author Maya Angelou, who said, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

Those are little challenges that everyone has known at one point or another. And I’m sure, in looking back over people we’ve known – and at ourselves – we can’t help but have a knowing chuckle at what those three things reveal.

After all, such frustrating situations usually leave behind memorable stories.

And I know that I definitely have a few.

For starters, I can’t count how many rainy days have attempted to crash our vacations. But one of my favorite rainy day moments happened at Disney World. We were at Magic Kingdom when almost out of nowhere rain started coming down hard and heavy.

We ran to the nearest cover, which happened to be beside the Haunted Mansion. And I’ll never forget standing there, huddled with other tourists as the rain poured relentlessly down, staring up at the Haunted Mansion as a streak of lightening split the sky.

We couldn’t have planned it better – the Haunted Mansion and lightening. Talk about appropriate.

And, when it comes to vacationing, my family and I have had some pretty interesting things happen with our luggage, the funniest of which involved Christmas tree ornaments in the Orlando International Airport.

This incident happened on our way back from a different Disney World vacation. We were all lugging bags of souvenirs through security, most of which did not give us any problems. The Mickey ears, my new scrapbook, a souvenir mug … all fine.

That was until my mom went through.

Unknown to us, Mom had purchased star-shaped ornaments to give Seth and me on Christmas. And I’m sure they would have been a wonderful Christmas morning surprise … if, that is, they hadn’t so closely resembled throwing stars.

With Seth and I beside her, Mom was forced by the TSA officer to take the “throwing stars” out of the suitcase so he could examine them.

In a roundabout way, we were still surprised … just not when and how Mom had planned.

To this day, whenever we decorate the tree, we joke that we’re hanging “throwing stars” on its branches.

And, speaking of Christmas trees … when it comes time to put up our holiday decorations, my brother always jokes that it’s the “most colorful time of the year” (though that has nothing to do with the colors of the twinkling lights).

When I was in middle school, we switched from a live tree to an artificial one, and that same tree has served us well all these years. Nowadays, it’s starting to resemble the poor twig from the Charlie Brown Christmas special but, also like Charlie Brown’s tree, after decorating, it always looks beautiful.

Though, of course, that doesn’t happen quickly.

Each year my dad is the one in charge of putting the tree together. It comes in three sections, with lights made into the branches that have to be plugged in just right so they all work.

And if there is one certainty in life, it is that “some assembly required” might as well mean “get ready to kick something.”

So, every Christmas, that is the challenge that awaits my father, with the lights being the most arduous task of all. Somehow, getting all of them to light up at once is like trying to line up the colors on a Rubix cube.

But, in recent years, that task has been much less colorful.

No, the tree didn’t get easier to assemble. Nor did the lights start to cooperate.

Instead, my dad learned that a beautiful tree did not have to be a perfect one.

It’s like that prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Let’s face it, Christmas trees always have fallen in that first category.

Humans like to be in control, but there are so many times when we are powerless. We can’t control the weather, the airport, or any of the countless other hassles that come with being alive.

What we can control, however, are our reactions. Of course, in the midst of a problem, we’d rather be frustrated and angry, disappointed and sad.

But, if we choose to laugh instead, then we gain a unique kind of control. Suddenly, a moment that could be an awful memory turns into a funny one.

We are so often told that we have power over our future, but in an odd way, we also have power over our past.

As Mark Twain said, “The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

Sarah Allen writes for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette, a Civitas Media newspaper in Ohio.