What is your perspective?

(originally published January 27, 2021 for City Dads Group)

I thought 2020 had run out of curveballs to toss by the holiday season. So around Thanksgiving our family decided to tackle a home renovation project: updating our basement.

While the bad lighting, 1970s carpet and tombstone gray wall panels had served us fine for our first three years in this house, we needed a change. A contractor friend helped us with the plans and, by mid-December, the renovations were going pretty well.

One evening after the workers had left, I started making one of my favorite dinners for the family: smash burgers! Cooking them tends create a smoky house so, as that predictably happened, I turned on the hallway fan to pull some of the smoke out of the house. But as dinner preparations wrapped up, an alarm went off. Not the smoke alarm as expected, but the carbon monoxide alarm. That can also happen with smoky cooking; however, after several minutes of opening doors and windows, the CO alarm continued ringing.

My wife and I decided to call the gas company, moving dinner with the kids to out in the car until they arrived. About 10 minutes later, as we gobbled our burgers and air fryer potato wedges in our minivan, a gas rep showed up. He examined our 25-year-old boiler which we had hoped had one more winter in it, and measured the levels of CO it emitted. He then asked me what level of CO was considered safe. I told him zero. He agreed, noting that up to five parts per million (ppm) is acceptable but it still should be at zero.

Our boiler was emitting 4,000 ppm. Had the CO alarm not gone off, my family and I would not have seen the next morning.

After some failed attempts at repairs the next day, the boiler was replaced, an expense we did not foresee having to deal with.

A damp vantage point

A few days after the boiler incident, Christmas Eve came to our New Jersey town along with some of the strongest winds I have ever heard. The house felt like it was going to be pulled right off of its foundation. After a harrowing night of weather, the house was intact; Santa still managed to deliver, but from my point of view our backyard fence looked like an elephant had sat on it.

After a call to our insurance company, some backyard cleaning and the opening of presents, my wife decided to take care on the seemingly never-ending laundry. Near the end of the wash cycle, she headed to the garage for something and she was greeted with half an inch of water creeping across the floor. One of the pipes from the washer had dislodged. Instead of water exiting through the plumbing, it spilled out directly on to the floor and into the garage.

All this while we were still trying to finish packing for a ski trip to New Hampshire that required us leaving our seemingly cursed home for almost a week.

But were we cursed? Was it bad mojo? Would our travels end with a broken leg or a flat tire?

My mind and my wife’s raced with these kinds of thoughts as we mopped the garage and soaked up what we could with our precious supply of paper towels. We even thought about canceling our plans to go on our well-needed vacation with our good friends.

But, that “woe is me” attitude only lasted a few minutes. Our point of view changed because our minds quickly began to contemplate all the outcomes of these scenarios that could have been.

Perspective is everything

The boiler broke and was emitting CO, but our multiple alarms SAVED OUR LIVES.  Literally. We have seen it happen on the news time and time again when people don’t have alarms at all, or never change the batteries. The inconvenience of the broken boiler for a few days pales to the tragedy that could have happened.

Our fence fell down, but our home was still standing. We have insurance to help with the cost of repair. How many times have we seen tornados or fires lay waste to entire towns with families only escaping with their lives while an entire lifetime of memories are gone in a flash?

What is a minor garage flood compared to seeing entire homes underwater when riverbanks overflow in hurricanes, forcing people to their rooftops in hope of rescue from the rising water.

Now, it is OK to be upset by your circumstances. You can be angry. You can feel like your world is caving in. You’re allowed to think the elements are out to get you. Not bottling them those feelings is important because not facing those emotions can often make matters worse.

I always try to put things in perspective when it comes to my life and remember how blessed I truly am. As bad as things seem to be at any given time, sometimes the alternative could be worse. If you use the power of perspective to examine where you are in life, where you want to be and where you could be, it will greatly shape how you approach what life throws your way. And, hopefully, it will shed light on a positive way to deal with it.

Life will constantly throw curveballs your way and you won’t hit a home run every time. It’s going to be a lot of base hits and a lot strikeouts. A. LOT. But if you learn from those experience and grow, your chances of hitting it out of the park your next time at the plate might be that much easier.