It’s Not What Happens to You, It’s What Happens Next . . .

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Dateline: Albuquerque Airport, New Mexico. October 2011.  “Land of Enchantment?  Really?”

It’s Not What Happens to You, It’s What Happens Next . . . . The ‘Stolen Luggage Incident’ Encore

The airline tickets were purchased at a sale price five months ago.  The Santa Fe Hilton had a double points special.  I’d timed the car rental to take advantage of the ‘five days the same as seven’ promotion.  Perfect.

I sucked in a lungful of the pristine high desert air and checked the rental cars for my wheels.  I spotted the gleaming Taurus and pivoted to pick up my luggage. bungeejum

That’s when I realized I hadn’t planned for everything.  I hadn’t thought about what I’d do if someone stole the piece of luggage absolutely necessary to fulfill my well planned and much anticipated week of writing.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Contents of the missing luggage:  three long-use batteries of no value without a certain rare laptop;  the power charger for the certain and rare laptop;  anti-inflammatory medications that enable me to climb out of bed without waking up the rest of the hotel with my screaming; the power charger for the cell phone;  underwear;  the charger for my bedside ‘noise’ machine; the usual toiletry essentials; and, my favorite and—irreplaceable– neon orange zipper bag.

Why list the contents?  To point out that the contents have no value to anyone else . . . and to make it perfectly clear that what has happened is unfair and outrageous.  The week I’d planned like an economy-minded traveling superstar was gone.  My dreams had been crushed by a stranger.

So what does an over-trained and experienced psychologist do in this situation?

Right. I lost it. Big time.  Punch-worthy obnoxious.  Good thing having a freak-out doesn’t get you arrested.  The policeman was ticked when, as he took the report, I ranted on and on– “What’s the point of your report?  You won’t find whoever took it.  You know that.  It’s hopeless.  I’m better off just accepting the worst!”

nmCitiesGoldPhotoThe drive up to Santa Fe takes approximately an hour, the catastrophic and hopelessness of my situation in full charge of my thoughts and actions.  I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the interior light.  I missed exits.  I drove too fast.  I pondered vengeance which went against everything I believed.

If I’d kept up the self-torture, by morning I’d be nothing but an oil spot on Interstate 25.  Or I’d freak and play slots twenty-four hours a day at one of the Indian casinos until I was homeless and under arrest for selling a rental car.

I’d so looked forward to the drive to Santa Fe, to the whole week.  And all of it was gone.  Yet, I was not satisfied accepting my fate.  I didn’t want to be miserable.  I love New Mexico.  I love the mountains, the tribes, the art.  I love the air.

Then it happened.  No, no angel appeared in the highway.lost-in-forest-300x200

The experience was more like sobering up without the blasted hangover.

As it happened I was midway through teaching a class in family therapy.  The afternoon before, I’d taught a class on “Recognizing Your Contribution When Life Goes Wacky.”  The theme was that therapy can only be useful to an individual when he or she is able to see his or her contribution to the experience.

But wait!  My situation was different.  How could I look for my contribution when the whole thing is not my fault?  I’ve been robbed!  I’m a victim here!  This is so unfair!  I can’t stand it!

My own words bounced from one side of my boiling brain to the other. “When you believe you have no contribution to a situation—you don’t have a problem to work on.  But you also have no power to change the situation.” question sneaked in the back door of my thinking blur. “What if I could determine, even a little, how much the unspeakable horror of having my luggage stolen affected my life?  What if what I taught others . . . really worked?  What if I could take back just 10 percent responsibility for my current experience?”

I had a choice and twenty miles.  This is not to say I hadn’t been wronged, I had. The bad guys provided the speed bump, what happened after–was the responsibility I’m talking about. What happened after was my contribution to my dilemma.  To the precious week I’d planned on.

ape stubbornOkay, so maybe I’d listen to the radio for a few minutes.  I could do that much.

Cut to the Santa Fe all-night Walmart.  Yes, Walmart.  I managed to replace every item except the electronics.  I even found a ‘universal charger’ that wouldn’t recharge the battery but would keep it working while plugged in.

Because I think the situation would have gone quite differently if I’d had company, the follow-up entry will be on what would have happened had there been someone with me in the car.  Call it something like, “Sure, you don’t think what’s happened is that bad.  It’s happened to me, not to you!”



I'm a psychologist who goes to way too many movies, for the same reason I chose this profession. I love stories. I use movies and novels working with people in my office and during speaking engagements. "You should write some of this down," I kept being told. So, this is it, folks.

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