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He lowered the window of the fast-moving train and then, nonchalant as an acorn lazily dropping from an oak tree, tossed his bag of lunch trash out into the breeze to land in the sunflowers growing beside the tracks.

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I was on a train from Milan to Venice, sharing a compartment with a Catholic priest dressed in his black formality, and maybe one or two other travellers. The bucolic countryside scenery of a beautiful sunny Italian day was heart-lifting. It was just into the early afternoon when the priest pulled out his paper bag containing cheese, bread, fruit and spicy, sliced meats. He sat across from me on the bench seats and chewed contentedly on a typical Italian repast. It was a while back in time so I can’t quite remember if he had some wine to sip on as well. It being Italy, he probably did.

Eventually, he finished up his little meal. He placed the wrappings of paper and plastic and the detritus of his snack neatly back into the bag it had come from. And then, with total casual aplomb, he stood up, lowered the compartment window, and flung the bag out into the pastoral countryside before raising the window and contentedly taking his seat once again.

I thought I would have a stroke. My anger rose to a boil quickly at this unanticipated sight of premeditated littering and befouling of the environment. A priest, for God’s sake!! I wanted to punch him right then and there. My mind raced with rage as I considered pulling the Swiss Army Knife stashed in my backpack that was easily accessible in the overhead bin. I envisioned myself plunging the knife into the throat of the priest and enjoying the sight of blood and retribution for his sin. A sacrifice was in order. He must pay…and so…

I did NOTHING!

I was grouchy for the rest of that day.

The priest had ruined for me what had been a supreme day. He didn’t have to diddle with me, he… just… threw… out… some… garbage!

I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse…you jump off the train or one of my boys will push you off the train…

And today, years later, I feel resentment and anger building whenever I think of that instant in a European railcar.

I don’t feel like Oscar the Grouch very often. I remind myself almost daily of the charmed existence that I live. In historic terms, I live the life that kings dreamed of hundreds of years ago. I have a warm, dry castle. I eat sumptuous foods in overly abundant quantities. I have health and good teeth that aren’t filled with rot. I have entertainment of my choosing (music, drama, comedy) provided in my home 24/7.

But, for no apparent reason, once in a long while, I wake up feeling crabby and grouchy. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s man hormones…maybe it’s a low pressure weather system with grey clouds…perhaps I’m worrying about the health of an ailing family member. Do YOU always know why you’re irritable?

I don’t like feeling grouchy, and I’m sure those around me don’t revel in the sulky, “don’t bug me” attitude that exudes from my curled-under lip. I’m just not pleasant to be around. So, I sometimes try a few things to get past the feeling and bring the Bluebird of Happiness back to my window ledge:

  1. Avoid the news- newspapers and TV news are great means of disseminating information, but the real reason they exist is to bring in eyeballs and make money from advertisers. They do this with as many sensational and tragic headlines as they can think up. Newspaper and magazine sales skyrocket when a hurricane strikes, or Justin Bieber breaks up with his girlfriend. 90% of the news has no effect on you so why get tied up in knots by it all.
  2. Change up routine- routines are wonderful, they give us a sense of stability in our lives that often keeps us sane. But sometimes, I escape the routine and change my milieu and go to a different coffee shop for the first time (so long as it’s Tim Hortons, I own shares;) ). Read a book about something that doesn’t typically interest me. Drive a different road to work and observe the different stores and people  along the route. Play a song on the guitar or piano that I haven’t played in eons. Try a different form of exercise like roller blading or badminton. Make up a new recipe using no more than 4 ingredients. 
  3. Hyperfocus on one thing – for just 30 minutes or an hour. We live in a soupy milieu of computers, and TV’s, and cellphones and a ton of different stimuli that distract us from many important things we could do. So I say to myself, I’ll read one whole chapter of the book I bought last month but haven’t read more than 3 pages at a time. Or, I’ll do the full P90X workout CD, start to finish. Or, I’ll go through 3 boxes in the storage room, get rid of a bunch of stuff, and consolidate them into one.

    This is how I’ve seen them do that YOGA stuff….just focus!

  4. Think about where I’d like to go on vacation...immerse myself in thoughts of a desirable vacation…one I’ve had where all the food was fantastic and the air was warm…OR the vacation that I’d like to have. Close my eyes and allow my senses to experience it like it’s happening now. It’s like listening to music from a time when I was supremely happy…I hear the first few notes or bars of the song, and I feel the emotions, and smell the fragrance of that happy time. Bring on the full sensory experience.
  5. Learn to smell my own crap – aka the “Jewish Mother’s” voice. Sometimes we’re a bit down and grouchy because we know we haven’t been true to our own principles. Some examples? It’s easier to just ignore the insensitive way I spoke to a co-worker. Not booking the cat for her annual shots is weighing on me but maybe I’ll do it tomorrow (yeah, right!). I should phone a relative who’s not been so well? Just do it and not only will she feel better, but I really will too!  I try to see myself for who I am…acknowledging when I’m not living up to my own standards can be difficult. When we at least smell our own crap, we can decide consciously if it can be flushed away and forgotten, or kept and cleaned up. Don’t be afraid to throw away the things that you know aren’t you..are you doing things to impress others?
  6. Buy a lotto ticket- there was a guy in B.C. last week who bought a lottery ticket on the way to his own father’s funeral. He’d bought lottery tickets for years and years, and this time, of all times, he won $25 million. Even when the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, positive things can happen…it’s all about hope!
  7. Acceptance- sometimes I want to soak and marinade in my own self-pity and crabbiness. An acceptance that some days are diamond, and some days are stone (thanks, John Denver!) is just part of our existence. Making this choice is fine so long as I can remove myself and my mood from others…just because I’m grouchy doesn’t mean everyone else should be miserable too. The bluebird’s happy song is that much sweeter after we’ve listened to the clucks of the Chicken of Depression!
  8. Chocolate- a little chocolate stretches an incredibly LONG way in lifting a grey grouchy mood. All of that sugar and cocoa butter and antioxidants. Put “eat chocolate” at the top of your list of things to do today. Chocolate is to grouchiness as apples are to doctors.

If none of the above stuff does the trick, I close my eyes, all of those squiggly lines appear like in a TV scene, and I go back in time and imagine—

…the priest opens the train window to toss his trash just as a huge gust of wind miraculously whips through the compartment. It catches his billowing vestments and like the Flying Nun, out the window he soars screaming, thrashing into a lush patch of prickly pear cactus alongside the tracks.  

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Then, his lunch bag drifts dreamily back into the compartment like the feather in Forrest Gump. I bend over to pick it up gently and with a contented smile, drop it smugly into the garbage bin next to the door. Sitting back down, without a care in the world, I gaze once again out the window and admire the beautiful olive groves whizzing past.

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