By Rev. Stella Quinn
High Priest of Zymurgy
"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
Something about that phrase always irritated me, though I could never figure out why until today, when someone very close to me had an epically crappy day. Not like the sort of day where you have bad hair and discover some new cellulite. More like the kind of day where the best laid schemes of mice and dudes go fucking awry and your life feels utterly derailed. On the phone today we were trying to bring some Zen back to the situation. I didn’t have any answers for today. All I could really do was validate the situation by acknowledging that sometimes life really, really sucks and there is nothing you can do about it.
It was at that point that my friend sarcastically repeated that weak-ass maxim about lemons and lemonade. I objected immediately, finally realizing what was so wrong about this way of thinking. Life does hand each of us lemons sometimes. But I don’t think the answer should be to simply accept what life happens to hand you, sugar coat it, and then dilute it until you can choke it down. What if you don’t like lemonade? What if you wanted a beer instead? When dealing with setbacks in life, should we really feel obligated to accept everything we are handed and attempt to mangle it into something we can tolerate?
The Tao Te Ching tells us to "be like water," flowing into the shape of the path before us and not attempting to waste our energy on obstacles that will not be moved. The Dude exemplified this when his rug got peed on. He didn’t accept that he’d have to live with a lemon rug now no longer tying the room together in its pee-stained state. He threw it out, and then he took the matter to The Big Lebowski. Like a stone in a riverbed, The Big Lebowski refused to replace the rug. The Dude did not waste his energy trying to break his opponent down. He circumvented his obstacle, waltzing out of the room and telling Brandt that he could have any rug in the place. Like Lao Tzu promises, The Dude is able to overcome all things by flowing around rather than beating against the jagged stones that crop up on the road of life.
Life is strikes and gutters, ups and downs. Most of life’s plans tend to be easy to control. If something you planned doesn’t happen, such as getting your laundry done or making it to the grocery store, it’s usually because we chose to do something else or just plain slack off. But It is especially hard to abide when your careful plans are knocked down by an outside force. We’ve all been there. Getting dumped. Getting fired. . But we have to remember to be like water, and keep on keeping on until we start throwing rocks again. Another way of putting that is to say that when life hands you lemons, you can tell the lemons to go fuck themselves and go get yourself a beer. Or a nice refreshing White Russian. You’re never stuck with what life gives you. There’s always a way to flow around every obstacle, reshaping your own path as you go.
Sometimes life is pretty crappy. There’s no getting around how frustrating meaningless misery can be. A Nihilist would see life’s setbacks as an excuse to give up or get angry. But the weird part about life is that sometimes when you look at those tough times when your path took an unexpected and painful turn, a whole set of options appear that you may never have considered before. The toughest period in my own life set me on a trajectory that led me to where I am today. It was fucking frustrating having to constantly replot my path when things weren’t going well. But while I didn’t enjoy a minute of the tough times back then, I realize that without them I wouldn’t have my present relationship, job, pet, friends, or most of the other things that now make me insanely happy. So I have no regrets about the gutters, because man did I end up throwing some strikes.
When life sucks, just let it suck for a moment. Acknowledge the hard times for what they are. Lose your cool. Listen to some angry music. Break something. Wallow. Then wipe off the dribbling mascara, take a nice hot shower, and begin your clean start as you go with the flow. Roll around the rough edges on your journey rather than striking against them. View obstacles as creative challenges in your life’s cartography. Wherever it is you want to be, you’ll get there.