When Things Fall Apart: A New Year’s Eve Story

Huge expectations rest on certain events, certain holidays. (See neuropsychologist Dr. Diane Engelman’s post, How do we Feel Good Despite Additional Stress During the Holidays?) What happens when things fall apart? As Chodron (1997) writes, “When there’s a big disappointment we don’t know if that’s the end of the story” (pp.8-9). It may, as she suggests, turn into a “great adventure.”

At times in our lives, New Year’s Eve can trigger high expectations. Years ago, my husband and I planned a special evening to ring in the New Year with friends. A formal event, I dressed carefully in an evening gown – not my usual mode of dress! We lived in a big city, and so counted on a taxi that evening instead of braving traffic in our car. (This was pre-Uber and Lyft). But taxi companies were so overwhelmed that the expected time for our ride came and went. Unwilling to take on the added stress of impossible-to-find parking, we anxiously waited, calling the harried dispatcher periodically. We also couldn’t reach our friends, since this was also pre-cell-phone days. You can see what’s coming – our taxi never made it, and as the clock hit 10 pm, we gave up.

Stressed, more than a bit dejected, and very hungry, we stared at each other across the room. What now? One of us recalled a restaurant close-by – not elegant, but at this point, we’d take anything to salvage what remained of our New Year’s Eve. The restaurant served Vietnamese food, in the days when Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S. were far from the norm. Both of us had lived in Southeast Asia and loved the food there. Neither of us had yet been to this restaurant. But would they still be open? And could we get in?

Changing into jeans and sweaters – and calling first to make sure we wouldn’t waste a hike down the hill – we took off. Stepping in the door, the smells transported us. We were back on the other side of the world, ready to enjoy a cuisine that we both loved and had missed. The restaurant was full but not too full. They had two places at the bar and would serve us there. I remember little of the delicious meal, except one dish: an extraordinary asparagus soup that I had not had since Saigon, 1963, over a decade earlier. I had mourned that soup, believing I would never taste it again, yet here it was.

anxious, stress

Part of a small, “great adventure”

To find it on New Year’s Eve, of all times, when a whole new year and new experiences stretched before me, was, well… perfect. And if our evening had not fallen apart, I might never have had this small, “great adventure.” Although Chodron’s book deals in bigger life events and the changes that can accompany them, we live our lives, too, in small moments. To have a small, meaningful triumph after a disappointment is sometimes the thing that keeps us going as we grow our stories.

  1. What disappointment have you had recently?
  2. What triumph?
  3. Were they large or small?
  4. Did you allow yourself to recognize them fully?
  5. Did you make any connection between a disappointment and a triumph?

I wish you a New Year full of the ups and downs that enable “great adventures,” both large and small!
(For thoughts on the New Year as a time of life review, see Dr. Diane Engelman’s post, What Does Cognitive Resilience Have to do With the New Year?)

Chodron, Pema, (1997) When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Note: In this post, the author, JB Allyn, is not directly or indirectly giving psychological or medical advice. Nor is she prescribing the use of any technique to treat medical, physical, or emotional problems. The author intends only to offer information of a general nature that may assist you in seeking personal growth. If you choose to use any of the information the author presents, she assumes no responsibility for your choices or actions.

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