Remember the “Serenity Now!” Seinfeld episode? George Costanza’s father Frank, played by the inimitable Jerry Stiller, was advised to say “Serenity now” every time his blood pressure was in danger of rising. But instead of calmly saying the phrase, he yelled it.
I found myself channeling Frank Costanza recently when I spent a week trying to help my 83-year-old aunt pack up her apartment in advance of a move from Colorado to California. A lot of us boomers find ourselves in similar situations as our elderly parents downsize.
It was a challenging week. The combination of sleep deprivation (mine) and incessant talking (hers) while attempting to winnow down a – shall we say – overabundance of QVC clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry and appliances (such as three tabletop infrared ovens still in their original boxes) had me near wit’s end more than once.
While I didn’t yell “serenity now!” I would scoot into another room to silently scream profanities when I felt ready to blow. That – and a glass or two of chardonnay at the end of the day – helped take the edge off.
But when I had to call 9-1-1 near the end of my visit because my aunt was having trouble breathing, all my frustration melted away. It turned out, the pneumonia that had hospitalized her a month earlier – precipitating the need for her move to be closer to family – was back. That crisis put things back in perspective and, tired and cranky as I was, I felt more compassion than irritation.
It also got me to thinking about the things that get my dander up. Most of the time, I’m on a fairly even emotional keel. But every now and then – especially when I’m overtired – I’ll have a “serenity now!” moment, such as:
- When I’m in line at the bank or retail checkout and a customer currently being served wants to chat – while the line grows even longer
- When cars are backed up at a toll booth but drivers wait until they get up to the toll-taker before getting their money out
- When I roll over in bed and find a cat turd
- When people in front of me stop at the top or bottom of escalators, or park their shopping cart in the middle of the supermarket aisle, oblivious to the world around them
- When my computer acts up (invariably when I’m on deadline)
- When a man I don’t know – and who doesn’t know me – calls me “honey”
- When dog owners don’t clean up their pets’ poop
- When people ring my doorbell trying to sell me something despite the “No Soliciting” sign right above it
- When those jerks claiming to be from Windows technical support call me yet again
- When someone repeatedly interrupts the person who is speaking (especially if the latter person is me)
- When people think rules don’t apply to them – like the ones who feel entitled to park in fire lanes or, worse, handicapped spaces because “I’ll just be a minute”
- When so-called customer service staff talk to each other and ignore me
- When people bring oversized carry-ons onto the plane – and either the airline does nothing or the passenger has the temerity to get ticked off if they do
- When people talk loudly on their cell phones in public places
Now I realize that if these are the biggest stressors in my life, I’ve got it pretty darn good. And most of the time, I really don’t sweat the small stuff – and most of this is small stuff. Letting it roll off my back definitely gets easier to do the older I get.
But every now and then, something just ticks me off. Yelling (or just thinking) “serenity now!” is a light-hearted reminder not to take it so seriously.
Or I can take the advice that George gave his father in that Seinfeld episode – which was to say “hoochie mama” instead of “serenity now.” That could derail a snit even faster.
Laughter can defuse
most of life’s little stressors.
Try it, you’ll like it.
What about you? What situations get your goat? Have you found it easer to let things go as you’ve gotten older? Do you have a serenity now-type phrase you use to defuse being pissed off?