If I asked you the best way to find an optimist, how would you go about it?

Consider the person for whom one thing after another is going wrong. Some are big, some are not, but they are cumulative. The person is pretty much brought to their knees, but in a last-ditch effort to remain positive, they say to no one in particular, “Well, things are bad, but at least nothing else can go wrong.”

Hello, optimist! I don’t know about you, but in my experience, I haven’t been aware of some cosmic scale that says, “OK. Enough already. Let’s stop at five bad things. Two of them were really wretched after all.” How’d that work out for Job? Poop happens, and sometimes it happens to you, and it stops when it stops. Right? Same with good things, actually, but we tend to be less focused on that.

Let’s take Sheri and Jim as an example of our poop-happens theory. We’ve had a couple of big things go wrong in the last five months, not the least of which, obviously, was my getting cancer. But I believe we humans are built, for the most part, to cope with big things. It’s the steady drip, drip, drip of little things on top of the big things that cause people to cry, “Well, things are bad, but at least nothing else can go wrong.”

Drip, drip, drip. We all know the feeling of those accumulated poop drippings.

Still, The Arnolds are managing. It’s Christmas! What better time to ward off you-know-what than Christmas? Well….

Monday, Dec. 23, between 2 and 4 p.m., our power goes out, presumably because of the ice storm. We’re pretty used to the power going out. We don’t actually live in “the sticks,” but you can see them from our back deck. We will never be Mainers, but in 15 years we have become Mainers-Lite. Power? Bah! Who needs it. We have our propane-fueled Jodl faux wood-burning stove, and we cook with propane gas.

Tuesday, Dec. 24, power still out, but it’s Christmas Eve, man, and it is getting a little nippy in here. Well, we have our candles and hurricane lamps. No running water, no flushing toilets, no phones until we can charge our cells at a friend’s tomorrow. But we’re Mainers-Lite! Right?

Christmas Day! Power still out. We’ve taken to chopping ice and melting it in pans on our Jodl to wash with. We start to open our Christmas gifts, but need to stop to go charge our cell phones. We head home. And lo, what light shines from yonder stickish countryside? Sheri and I excitedly take turns identifying the areas with power as we go along … right up to our road. Nothin’. This is starting to feel a little personal. We finish opening our gifts in the dark.

It is now really cold in here. We are both wearing sweatshirts with the hoods pulled over our heads, and buried in blankets and comforters; Sheri on the sofa, me in my recliner. Anyone looking in the window could easily have mistaken us for a minor sect of mad monks making some statement about the real meaning of Christmas.

So, we read and huddled until 8 p.m., when we decided it was time to go to bed. Well, that just seemed plain wrong. It was Christmas! So we talked for another 50 minutes and then called it a night.

Thursday, Dec. 26, Boxing Day in the country of my birth. Another day with no power in the land of where I live now. You’ll notice, not once have I said, “Well, things are bad, but at least nothing else can go wrong”? But, c’mon. Really? Still no power. People all around us were flaunting theirs. Lights on in the daytime. Christmas lights lit. Have they no pity?

It’s the last day of my current course of chemotherapy, which I take at home but it still wears me out. I realize daylight is a wasting, but don’t really care. I flop in my chair, feel sorry for myself for a moment or two, then settle down for a long winter’s nap wearing all my clothes, hoodie covering my head, blankets piled high. Happy Boxing Day.

I lose track of time, daylight is gone and Sheri seems to be talking to someone in the living room. But. No. Wait!! It’s the TV!! Power, baby! I run around and turn on virtually every downstairs light … because I can!! I make toast … because I can! I flush the toilet and run some hot water … BIC.

I’ll spare you the part about how grateful you become for the little things, but… this was the best Christmas the two of us have had in a long time. We were cut off from our families, which was unfortunate, but we also were removed from the madness of the season. We came to realize how much stimulation we are bombarded with every day, not just at Christmas. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was a Christmas miracle, but I might buy it as a Saturnalia surprise.

I think this year Sheri and Jim got the Christmas they deserved. Good for them.

Jim Arnold is a copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. He was born in Scotland and came to America with his parents in 1963, when he was 14 years old. He and his wife, Sheri, moved to Maine in 1998. He has two daughters, Jennifer and Alison.

Editor’s note: This column is a shorter version of the one Jim originally wrote. To read the entire column, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.

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