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The New Oxford American Dictionary defines wisdom as, “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Twenty-somethings are not exactly renowned for having any of these in spades.
But almost anyone, regardless of age, can point to an experience that has given them at least a little piece of insight. Often, these are wisdom-producing experiences we don’t appreciate right away, and it takes some temporal distance to understand the lessons learned. Ending a relationship (or worse, having the relationship ended on you) is exactly one of these experiences.
No, wait, come back! I promise this won’t be one of those sappy, “I-was-broken-up-with-but-now-I’m-learning-to-be-whole-again-and-love-myself” reflections you can find elsewhere online.
It happened one morning soon after we graduated from college. He already had a job lined up on the other side of the country, and I didn’t yet have a job lined up anywhere. Not that that was the reason it ended. I was applying for jobs in several different cities closer to home, which he knew. But, I was still devastated, as you can imagine, and spent the hours immediately after we parted ways restless and agitated, and never far from a box of Kleenex.
Finally, my sister (probably tired of watching me wander around the house finding different rooms to cry in) told me to wash my face and change my clothes, because she was taking me to a movie to make me feel better. I took her up on her invitation (knowing I couldn’t really refuse it anyway), and soon she was driving me to the nearest Regal Cinemas and buying us a tub of popcorn (extra butter) and an assortment of Junior Mints (does anyone eat those outside a movie theater?), Reese’s Pieces, and Swedish Fish to share.
The only problem was, we picked the wrong movie. Instead of going to see whatever the latest superhero movie was, or some other mindless action flick, we instead went to see a movie we had wanted to see for some time: Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out, a heartfelt story about growing up and learning to let go and accept change. The story begins when 10-year-old Riley’s parents decide to move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco, uprooting Riley from everything familiar and taking her far away from her friends. Most of the movie takes place inside Riley’s mind, where her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) must help her navigate this upheaval. Joy is something of the ringleader and has little patience for Sadness, seeing little role for her in the “command central” of Riley’s brain. After all, Riley’s life has been incredibly happy up until this point. The movie, then, is primarily about Joy – and Riley – learning to accept the role Sadness must play along with Joy in Riley’s life as she grows up.
I was a goner after ten minutes. Even the Pixar short film that played before the movie, about a lonely volcano, had me reaching for any of the napkins we had that weren’t covered in butter. Even my sister was getting misty-eyed. And neither of us had brought extra tissues. After we had used up all of our napkins, I excused myself to the bathroom to go find more tissues. A grandmotherly-type woman approached me as I was trying to abscond with about half a roll of toilet paper to ask me if I was all right, as I had clearly been crying. I thought better of launching into my sob story and thanked her for asking anyway, before trying to find my way back to theater 9. I can only imagine what I looked like wandering around the Regal Cinema hallways, sniffling with puffy red eyes and splotchy red skin (the art of the pretty cry eludes me to this day), and several yards’ worth of cheap toilet paper bunched up in my fists.
My sister had plans to meet up with friends later that night, so she left after the movie had finished and she had taken me home. I spent the evening video chatting with my best friend from college to fill her in, then watching reruns of old sitcoms with my parents.
So what is the wisdom I gleaned from this experience? That things are never as bad as they seem and I can always lean on my family and friends in times of trouble? Always carry Kleenex with me? Well, yes, but I think the most resonant piece of wisdom from that afternoon may be the value of learning to laugh at myself. I don’t mind retelling the story – in fact, I kind of enjoy it – because of the humor I see in it now. It’s just funny to me that my sister took me to see a movie that day with every intention of helping me feel better, and then the movie we picked wound up reducing us both to tears. In the end, though, it actually was a good way to make me feel better. Even if I didn’t feel like laughing in the moment, the utter absurdity of the situation was not lost on me.
It’s a lesson in perspective worth applying to other situations. If I’m having the kind of day where all the little things seem to be conspiring against me, sometimes the best thing to do is step outside the situation and consider how, if you look at it a certain way, it’s actually kind of funny. It’s hard to stay annoyed, mad, or frustrated if I’m cracking a smile thinking of which details I’d emphasize or the narrative spin I’d put on it to make it a funnier story to tell someone later. The old “laughter is the best medicine” line may be a trite cliché, but there is some truth to it, if not the whole truth. Sometimes, a little laughter at your own expense in pursuit of making others laugh is even better medicine.