When things go wrong

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scanIn June, I accidentally ate some Canadian bacon. It was hidden in the supposedly meatless frittata that I ordered. I’d eaten a few bites before I suddenly spied an unmistakable pink shred of…

“What is this?” I asked the counter girl, whom I knew from prior visits to the cafe.


I was incredulous. I’d specifically asked if the frittata contained meat and then specifically ordered the meatless option. Who but a non-meat-eater would go through the trouble of asking?

The girl apologized and offered me a salad. In retrospect, I should’ve accepted the gesture, to be gracious, to be a bigger person. But, in the moment, I was upset and made a quick exit.

Why was I so upset? It’s not as if beef, pork, or poultry have never touched my lips. I ate meat as a kid in Hawaii. Moreover, I currently eat fish, eggs, and dairy, so I cannot claim to be non-harming to animals.

But I like to be in control of what I do. If I’d deliberately decided to eat meat, that’s one thing. I didn’t choose, however, to eat bacon in that frittata, at that cafe, on that day.

nissan-rear-viewA couple months later, I stopped at a light on Alcatraz Ave, facing Shattuck Ave, in Berkeley-Oakland, my old stomping grounds. Suddenly someone rear-ended my rental car.

After the crash, I sat still for a moment, almost visualizing the trajectory of my planned day/week/trip/life, shooting forward like an arrow, but now stopped short, stuck in a wreck. Then I jumped out, in case the gas tank was on fire.

Fortunately no one was injured. The other driver’s car (see below) was totaled, and my 2013 Nissan Versa (see right) was barely drivable, but my body was fine: no whiplash.

I was relieved to be staying with good friends in Rockridge and in San Francisco, and my trip continued on its merry way. I rode BART and MUNI, revisited my favorite Berkeley Bowl, and attended an energizing workshop with Iyengar yoga teacher Marla Apt.


Like the bacon frittata incident, the car accident happened unexpectedly and not by choice. And, likewise, it was ultimately a blip in the big scheme of things.

Every day I read or hear about inconceivable tragedy and irreparable loss. Do I know anything about such struggle and grief? Probably not. Not yet, anyway. Maybe that’s why I still think that things are somewhat under my control. But, of course, much is beyond our control.

When things go wrong, whether in big or little ways, we glimpse who we really are.

Image: Keep Calm and Carry On, Wikipedia


  1. Hi Loose. We just got back from LA visiting my Mom. At 99, she sees little, hears less, forgets everything and repeats herself endlessly. But she is as positive as ever. What is important? I think it’s taking what you have and making the most you can from it. Control is an illusion. We are never happy when we call the shots. We are happy when we adapt and keep moving ahead.


    1. Doug, I rarely (never) check Facebook, but somehow saw your post about you and Barb still in SF, while Dan and his family have settled in NYC and Bron, where? Even farther for grad school? You commented that there’s something wrong with this picture. It’s been same in my family for years, now ranging from Hilo (where I just enjoyed three weeks!) to Vancouver and Santa Cruz. We make the most of trips and visits, plus email and phone. You’re right, appreciate what you have: the time together and the life you create for yourself (for me, such different worlds, but equally real and important!). Looseleaf


  2. At the risk of taking this topic down a path that it probably wasn’t intended for… the subject of “when things go wrong” and particularly how we react to adversity, got me thinking.

    When something goes seriously wrong in our lives (the loss of a loved one, the end of an important relationship, a professional failure), when we are left feeling alone and vulnerable and hurt, that perhaps can be an opportunity for self-realization. We can be quickly stripped of our self-delusions and left questioning our comfortable assumptions. It can feel like waking up from a dream into reality or from a haze into sobriety.

    More frequently these moments (when things go wrong for us) trigger less admirable human traits; self-pity, anger, hubris, pride and worse. We’d like to discount these more base responses as stemming from our insecurities and from being emotionally overwhelmed, not a reflection of who we really are, but they are just as revealing. Strength, compassion and insight are learned qualities and not simply innate.

    The New Yorker had a piece this June about a Japanese Monk who counseled suicidal people. This is a reference to a portion of the article: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/06/24/130624fa_fact_macfarquhar?mobify=0
    The journalist gave a very insightful interview on the New Yorker podcast which is worth a listen.

    What I found most interesting was the idea that through suffering can come self-knowledge. Looking at suffering as a journey in that way seems to be a far more constructive approach than simply categorizing it as a disease that needs a (medical) cure. (Which is not at all to argue that depression is not a disease.) Western culture increasingly creates this expectation that we must be happy and busy and fulfilled and successful at all times or we are failures and our time is lost. To accept that we can make still progress as human beings even when we are not always happy and fulfilled, and that we can redefine success on our own terms, is (I think) somewhat of a liberating idea.

    And to (clumsily) bring this back to Yoga. My GP told me last week that a Yoga practice is now widely considered in the medical profession to be more effective than any prescription based stress medication. A quick search subsequently revealed a wealth of eminently credible sources supporting Yoga in the treatment of a wide range of physical and mental problems. (I think the more interesting question may be whether the same benefits can be achieved through other physical exercise or whether Yoga offers a significant additional – mental – dimension to its practitioners.) I’ve previously read that more than 50% of anti-depressants were no more effective than the placebos in clinical trials and yet they are being prescribed to an ever increasing number of people.

    There you are. You’re in the health profession!

    As a more light-hearted take on the subject of things going wrong, have a listen to NPR’s “This American Life” episode on “Fiascos”.

    So those are the thoughts and ideas that the blog prompted me to throw together. I failed to pull them together into a thesis but enjoyed putting them down nonetheless. Thanks for your indulgence.


    1. Years ago, I took a creative nonfiction writing class. The teacher said something like this: If you write about your mother, you don’t want readers to ask you, “How is your mother?” You want them to tell you about their mothers.

      Maybe the point applies also to blog posts.

      Many thanks for sharing your ideas, Paul. And now your comment is reciprocally giving me food for thought…


  3. Hi Spy!
    Since none of us is free from those ‘dark’ reactions and emotions, another way of measuring our progress or watching ourselves grow is by observing the time that passes between the immediate reaction and dealing with it / watching it / working with it / letting it go. This week, for example, I lost my temper while talking on the phone to an MOT official who wouldn’t listen to me but just repeated that they can’t help me. Luckily, before the call was over, I could bring myself [my ego] to apologize for my part. Better than hanging with this grudge and resentment all day…
    By the way, as far as I can see, bringing ourselves to let go or to apologize is not something we can control either 😉 It just happens when it happens.


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