Let’s set the scene: Weekday afternoon. I’ve just finished work. I’m in a long, long line at the post office, wanting to ship something out before I can finally call it a day and tend to the multitude of other things on my to-do list.
I’m not used to long lines anymore. Living in a small town with a small town USPS will spoil you rotten. I check my phone, space out, return an email via my phone, space out some more. I look at the pretty stamps and follow lines along the walls and space out again.
The line moves at a snail’s pace. For every person helped, two more join the line. Eventually I find myself at the front. At one register, a man is attempting to mail out 10 different packages — some domestic, some international. On the other register, a man is attempting a money order. The second register is losing its mind as it attempts to process the money order, jamming paper and giving weird messages on the screen. These are two patrons who waited in line forever like me, and are now waiting forever to just get the job done.
And as the second postal worker gets the manager about the jammed money order, I hear the first postal worker go, “Oh God, I just voided the whole thing.”
There’s an audible groan from the customer. There’s a wave of energy in the line that you can only feel when everyone gets exasperated at the very same time. The frazzled postal lady looks over at me, the next one in line.
And I’m smiling.
I’m not smiling in any sadistic, masochistic, or oblivious way. It’s the knowing smile of someone who gets it — who gets how wrong a day can go. I’m smiling to commiserate. I’m smiling to hopefully offset the wave of negative energy.
I’m smiling because sometimes you just have to smile.
I say, “You gotta laugh,” a lot. A lot. Because learning to just say, “You gotta laugh,” has done wonders for shifting me away from the type of person I used to be and have no intentions of ever going back to being: a ball of nerves who collapses in on herself when things go wrong.
So sometimes that means making a joke out of the situation. Sometimes that means laughing at how absurd it all is. And sometimes it means laughing because the alternative is crying. And usually those laughs eventually ease out the tears that needed to happen in the first place.
In a similar vein: sometimes you gotta smile. Smile because someone is having a real shitty day and maybe that smile can tip the scales a bit. Smile because you gotta remind yourself of the good, the vibrant, the reasons to smile.
Sometimes you gotta smile because the world seems stuck on the alternative: frown, complain. Groan audibly and make a show of how annoyed you are.
I eventually get the second postal worker. I’m overly sing-songy. And I know I’m toeing in on old habits: this overly-accommodating, whatever-it-takes-to-keep-the-peace behavior that has never really done me any favors other than delay whatever anger was going to come my way anyway.
Again, echoes of a former version of me that I have no intention of ever returning to.
But I toe that line as I keep things light. Joke about my bulky package (and now, looking back, I realized I missed out on a terrible and yet hilarious genitalia joke). I continue to smile.
“Just one of those days,” I remark.
And maybe that’s what is needed right now more than smiles and jokes and overly-accommodating behavior: that neutral recognition that sometimes days suck.
Because they do sometimes. Some days are going to be a wash. Some days, everything is going to go wrong. Some days are going to test you in a way that almost guarantees failure. Some days are going to make you question everything, make you wonder if you actually got it in you to keep moving forward and not stall out.
And that’s when you gotta laugh. You gotta smile. You gotta recognize without judging and then smile/laugh for whatever reason you need to. If only because the alternative is unacceptable.