Looking for Life’s Lessons

Life brings us lessons we need to learn. Sometimes we muddle through drama and come out the other side simply happy to have it all behind us. Yet, if we have some self-awareness and get a little reflective, we can probably draw an important lesson from all of life’s frustrating situations. The lesson is there, but sometimes we fail to see it. In fact, at times we keep getting dealt the same irritating hand of cards because we aren’t learning whatever it is the universe is trying to teach us.

This is a story about one of those life lessons and the drama that ensued until it was finally learned. It all begins with a man and his camera.
Brian in Africa
Before we left for our family’s trip around the world in the spring of April 2014, my husband bought a new camera. And not just any camera. This was a Sony A7 with mirrorless, full-frame sensor. (Yeah, I don’t know what that means either, but suffice it to say Brian was VERY excited about it.) This would be the device documenting our family’s journey. When we would look back on this adventure, it would be through the photos taken by this fancy schmancy, feature-filled, too-complicated-for-Tracey-to-operate camera.

Brian took a staggering 27,000 photos with it during the 8-month period we traveled through Europe and Africa. Photography morphed from a hobby into a true passion for him. He began watching instructional videos online to expand his knowledge on things like composition, leading lines, the rule of thirds, HDR and post processing. (Once again, over my head.) He went to a photographers’ conference in New Zealand and started posting a daily photo on Instagram. One thing became very clear. Brian had found his creative calling.
Brian at sunset

But then, something tragic happened. Our last evening in South Africa’s Kruger National Park Brian’s camera inexplicably died. Like the water buffalo carcass we’d seen surrounded by a pride of lions, Brian’s camera succumbed to a painful early death…the camera version of this being an enigmatic flashing error message followed by a forced shut-down.

While certainly not an ideal situation, all hope was not lost. The next day we were conveniently flying to Bangkok, the city where the camera had actually been manufactured. Surely Brian would be able to find a Sony shop honoring the camera’s 1-year warranty, right?

And this is where the life lesson begins.

After two days, multiple taxi rides and a good amount of confusion navigating Bangkok’s busy streets, Brian eventually found the official Sony repair shop. Unfortunately, he was told that because he’d bought the camera in the U.S., the warranty would not be honored in Thailand. If they worked on the camera to diagnose and fix the problem, he would have to pay for the work. If it couldn’t be fixed, he would pay the full cost of replacing it.

You can probably guess Brian’s reaction to this news. “Ridiculous! Ludicrous! Total bullshit! I am not paying money to fix a manufacturing flaw in a camera that’s still under warranty!”

And so it began…We entered into what I’ve come to call The Camera Drama Era of our family’s life together. Repeated calls to Sony. Completion of paperwork. Shipment of the camera halfway around the world. More calls to Sony. Finding and buying a cheaper camera fitting Brian’s lenses so he could still take photos. Favors from a friend who had to become involved in this mess because the camera could only be shipped to the Sony warranty center from a domestic U.S. address. Checking on the camera’s repair process. Checking on shipment tracking statuses. Until finally (FINALLY!) after over five months and many hours of time, effort and frustration later, the camera got shipped to be reunited with its loving owner in Pucon, Chile. Cue the halleluiah chorus!

But then…it got stuck in customs. This used, once-broken camera would require $600 in import fees and the paid services of an official “agent” to get it out of the customs office in Santiago. Brian would have to pay more money than the camera was now worth in order to get the damn thing back.

I won’t go into the details of Brian’s visceral reaction to this, except to say that at one point while he was yelling into the phone at a FedEx representative Alison crawled into my lap, gave me a fearful look and whispered “Mama, I’m scared.”

In the days after, I would see a shadow cross Brian’s face at random moments and he would get what the girls and I call his “Triangle of Fury”, a trifecta of wrinkles that form between his eyebrows when he’s mad. I could tell the situation was festering. He couldn’t justify paying the money to get his package out of customs, but he couldn’t let it go either. Knowing that his camera was sitting on a shelf, waiting for him to cough up hundreds of dollars to release it from international shipping purgatory was eating away at him. Not fair, not fair, not fair.

But then something somewhat miraculous happened.

Brian’s anger toward the situation melted away. In looking at his life and all the things he had to be thankful for, losing a camera to a customs office seemed pretty insignificant. What’s more, all of those employees at Sony, FedEx and the Chilean government he’d been so mad at through all of this where really just people going through life with a job, family, friends and hobbies. They were making a living, not making the rules. They didn’t want to listen to an irrational guy yell in their ears any more than Brian wanted to have his camera flown all over the planet just to get stuck in customs.

The lesson Brian learned through all of this was a simple truth we all know on some level, but easily forget: It’s not what happens to us in life, but how we react to it. Granted, it can sometimes be cathartic to scream and rant at the walls for a few minutes to get it off our chests, but ultimately a positive, empathetic attitude toward the other people involved is the best way to fix life’s problems, both big and small. We aren’t doing ourselves any good by turning on others and making it their fault.

Brian’s entire attitude toward the camera drama changed. Instead of a me-versus-them mentality, he let his anger go. He stopped ranting about it, accepted the situation and moved on. There had been a lesson in all of this, and eventually, after some unproductive time spent with his Triangle of Fury, Brian had opened himself up to learning it. Maybe he wouldn’t see his camera again, but as strange as it may sound, he was a better man for having gone through the whole frustrating ordeal. Life is not me-versus-them. It’s not about who wins. It’s about knowing how to choose happiness through life’s challenging, frustrating, and even heartbreaking moments.

On our last day in Chile as we were driving from Valparaiso back to Santiago, Brian told me he wanted to find the FedEx customs office so he could try to address the situation in person before we left the country. Those of you that know me or have come to know me a bit through this blog are aware I’m pretty good at throwing positivity at every situation. However, I’ll admit that even I thought this was a lost cause and a total waste of time. As the girls and I waited in the car, I figured we’d be spending our flight to Bolivia with an angry, fuming Brian. I mean, this is government bureaucracy we’re talking about here. How could it possibly have a happy ending?

And yet, it did. When Brian walked up smiling from ear to ear and holding his long awaited package from the U.S. my jaw dropped. “WHAT?!? How did you do that! They gave it to you without paying the fees?” He just smiled and nodded his head. I was stunned. Overjoyed. And perhaps also slightly worried that Chilean customs officials were going to be running up at any second to tackle the crazy man that had just raided their office in a maniacal fit of rage.

“I just showed them my passport and signed a form,” he said. The photography gods were smiling on him that day.

So there you have it folks. Brian’s acceptance, self-reflection and positive thinking were rewarded with a happy ending. There was a lesson in all this camera drama. He found it. And I would venture to say it has changed him forever.
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About the Author

Tracey Carisch

Mom, wife, friend and change agent traveling the world with my family to learn our place in it. After spending a career in organizational change management and community initiative implementation, I put my career on hold for our family's trip around the world. In April of 2014 we sold almost everything we own, put the rest in a storage container, and departed on this journey. While my husband continued his software development work to financially support our trip, I planned and documented our adventure, homeschooled our three daughters, and found volunteer work opportunities for us to do in the communities we visit. Now that we've returned to the U.S., I'm completing book about our family's adventure and our lessons learned.

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