There’s an old expression that theoretically takes the sting out of every bad thing that goes down: shit happens.
And when it’s something small, like you missed a bus but there’s another one coming in five minutes and you have hours to spare, shit happens is a shrug of your shoulders telling the world, I’m cool… no big whoop.
But then there are the way bigger, way suckier things that happen that are less easy to nonchalantly dismiss.
Maybe you get the bad news in an official letter, a summons, a call in the middle of the night, a crash/slash/burn for which you are painfully present.
Or, if you’re like me, it could be a simple knock at the door by someone mumbling something about what kind of car you own and whether or not you have anywhere to be in the next few hours.
So you run outside, only to find that your sole means of transportation has been completely munched by a big ol’ garbage truck.
Much like grief, there are seven phases that we all go through when trying to process the shit that happens.
1) Shock: Depending on what’s going down, your shock might range from mild all the way to traumatic. Having lived through actual car accidents, including one in which I never saw the guy who ran the red light coming, I can tell you that having an unoccupied vehicle crunched was far less severe, but still had some degree of shock factor — enhanced by the idea that I had many places to be and people to see that particular day.
2) Denial: When you’re on a roll, and shit happens to slow it down, sometimes you have to keep on truckin’ until you realize that you’re out of wheels… or out of gas. When I first surveyed the damage to the lefthand side of my car and saw just a little scrape and a cracked hubcap, I told the mortified sanitation truck driver that I was sure I could still drive my car and he shouldn’t worry. That lasted about two minutes until I walked around the front end and realized the bumper was pretty much torn off and the innards beneath it were horribly mangled. It’s awfully hard to hold on to delusions in the face of painful reality, so in this case denial lasted a very brief five minutes or so.
3) Anger: If it’s grief you’re processing, anger is pretty far down on the list. Shit, when it happens, floats and buoys rage right up to the top. Mine (and I’m guessing yours would, too) looked a lot like this:
As I let loose with a few choice words, I felt a LOT better. Then I did a little dance that included thrusting my arms in the arm and screaming, “WHY GOD, WHY? WHY TODAY?” as if I were about to be sworn in as President of the United States and my limo got hit by a garbage truck. The truth was that although I had a couple of meetings on the books, it didn’t have to be THAT dramatic. But I was on a roll, so I couldn’t stop… that is until I caught sight of the garbage truck driver retreating into his vehicle, looking fully ashamed.
4) Guilt: Again, unlike grief, some emotions kick in sooner when the shit hits the fan. If what goes down is your fault — be it something you did accidentally or with intention — you might experience the creeping sensation of guilt earlier on. For me, as soon as I caught sight of the sanitation man’s face, I started feeling like a schmuck. It was, after all, an accident. I had insurance. Nobody was in the vehicle when it happened. Sure, there was going to be some inconvenience, but HULLO, #firstworldproblems.
5) Depression: Now that you’ve gone through the wild emotional ride that the shit can take you through, reality sets in and bites you on the tush in the form of depression. Two cancelled meetings, nearly three hours on the phone with insurance, the tow company, the car rental place, and the various friends and relatives I had to tell my mournful tale to, not to mention all the time I clearly had to put into creating a sad Facebook post to conjure sympathy and empathy, to the immediate self-loathing that set in once I realized how pathetic that social media suck-up was… altogether pushed me into a dark spiral of depression.
6) Bargaining: Look, when shit happens, it’s NEVER what you bargained for. When I got to the rental place, I took the first car they offered — a giant, gas-guzzling boat of a car that made me feel like I was driving my nana’s old Buick. Knowing full well that the planet Mercury was going to be retrograde throughout the entire ordeal made me pony up for the extra insurance. Once I thought about being $140 or more out of pocket on something I never asked for, I realized that you don’t get what you deserve in life; you get what you negotiate. By the next morning, I appealed to the cute, young car rental girl with my sad tale of feeling like a grandma before my time, and before I knew it, I had swapped the boat for a cherry red Lexus hybrid with zip and swagger.
7) Acceptance: After the first couple of days, once the busy work dissipated, it was much easier to move on and chalk things up to, well, shit happens. Acceptance comes with time and maturity. That and doing donuts in my cherry red rental on the front lawn of the Sanitation Dept. building (JUST KIDDING!)
Speaking of acceptance, while my example was but a puny one, I would say that David Bowie making art and a gorgeous parting gift for fans out of a terminal diagnosis is the ultimate act of what CAN and SHOULD happen when shit happens.
So if you hear me humming, “Under Pressure,” just know that when shit happens and presses down on you (and me), you have a choice to make — react with terror or respond with love. (Hint: One prolongs the pain, and the other releases it.)
Now enjoy this incredible acapella rendition of “Under Pressure,” sung by a (non-retrograde) Mercury and Bowie — it’s guaranteed to lift you up and keep the shit from bringing you down.