One of the great paradoxes of life is that the possessions we desire the most invariably get messed up, no matter how hard we try to prevent it. To make matters worse, this often occurs right after we finally acquire the possession and it’s usually our own fault.
This all seems to come naturally. Innocent children's toys get broken, food gets spilled on the front of our new outfit, and balloons slip out of our hands. It’s not unusual for a toy to break seconds after leaving its box. The classic parental complaint, “This is why we can't have nice things,” has been around for a long time. In the early 1990s, comedienne Paula Poundstone used this phrase in her standup routine. Poundstone said, “My mother would get mad over absolutely everything. I remember the time I knocked a Flintstones drinking glass off the table and she said, 'That’s why we can’t have nice things.'”
This phenomena is so ingrained into the popular culture that in her sixth album, Reputation, Taylor Swift even recorded a song by that title. Among Swifties the song is known just by its abbreviation TIWWCHNT.
When I graduated from college and had a job lined up, I bought the first new car I ever owned — a red MG Midget. With me being a poor driver and the MG having an undersized clutch, the car was constantly in the repair shop. Never-the-less I was extremely proud of it and at that point in my life, it was the nicest thing I had ever owned.
My mother, however, thought the car was too small and she referred to it as that “damned roller skate.” She always had a way with words. The day I brought the MG home from the dealer, I parked it behind my brother’s pedestrian station wagon. Later that evening I planned to use the station wagon to pick up a file cabinet. I couldn’t see the tiny MG and I backed right into it, denting the grill. I had had the car less than a day. It was devastating. Just the memory of my carelessness still makes me cringe.
I think this phenomena may relate to a concept in physics called “entropy.” Entropy is derived from the second law of thermodynamics and posits that there is an inevitable and steady deterioration of everything in the universe, as all things move from a state of order to a state of disorder. Unfortunately, that sounds just about right.
Comedian Jerry Seinfield, however, may have put it better when he said, “All things on Earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage. Your home is a garbage processing center where you buy new things, bring them into your house and slowly crapify them over time.” He also noted that over time, as things deteriorate, we move them from their prominent seats of honor, eventually putting them in less celebrated places like the garage or basement. According to Seinfeld, once something gets sent to garage, it knows that it’s never coming back. He has also referred to the rented storage unit as the “purgatory of possessions.”
Like with my MG, in most circumstances we often act as our own agents of entropy. When our oldest son was a senior in high school, we bought him a new (red) Honda motor scooter. My wife Diane thought she would like to try it out. She only managed to speed across the street and fall over. Fortunately she wasn’t injured, but the handlebar assembly received a nasty scratch.
People end up damaging possessions for a variety of reasons. Most frequently this is due to a lack of experience or not understanding how things work. It takes a while to know what you are doing and while you’re learning, your possessions are often in jeopardy. Impulsivity may also be a factor, as people often rush to do something before fully comprehending the directions.
Then there was the pontoon boat. I had never pulled a trailer before and couldn’t judge distances very well. The first time I went to a gas pump to fill up the boat’s tanks, I drove too close to one of posts supporting the overhang and scratched the side of the boat. I was lucky I didn’t take down the gas station’s roof.
Another reason we tend to mess our things up is because we may get too excited when we have something new. This can take its toll on one’s judgment and encourages carelessness. As a child I can remember desperately wanting a fabulous water gun I saw at the local Woolworth’s. I unmercifully nagged my parents for that water gun until they finally relented and let me buy it. I eagerly rode my bicycle to the store to get it. I just couldn’t wait to fill it with water and try it out on my big brother, paying him back for all those nuggies and Dutch rubs. On the way home, however, I hit a patch of loose gravel. The bike lost traction and I skidded into a curb, crashing the bike and shattering the new water gun. I also skinned my knee, adding injury to insult. Over-enthusiasm was my undoing — a pattern that unfortunately would be repeated often.
I once heard someone say that life was like buying a shiny new pair of shoes. No matter how hard you try, that first scuff is still coming and it’ll probably be your own fault.
— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at email@example.com.