Out of Left Field: Thanks for the Lemons

We had so many plans for 2020. Vacations, festivals, dining out, not washing our hands. Just the same old regular stuff, but we found comfort in those plans and confidence that life would carry on pretty much like it always has. Then 2020 turned sour and our plans went out the window. Thankfully, we can rely on idioms and inspirational phrases to help us through these tough times.

“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.” What an encouraging mantra to help us turn a sour situation into sweet success! Unfortunately, life neglected to also give us sugar, potable water and a suitable container for storage and distribution. Now all we are able to make is unsweetened lemon paste. Even a lemon zester would have been useful. Thanks for the lemons, 2020.

“When one door is closed, another door is opened.” Another poignant reminder that as opportunities disappear, another opportunity may present itself. But instead of representing opportunity, sometimes that open door is a result of my family haphazardly entering and exiting the house allowing our exclusively-indoor cat to escape. Again. Stop opening all these doors! Thanks for the lemons, 2020. (Also see: “Window of opportunity”)

“You play the hand you’re dealt.” In a game of poker, you can only play the cards that have been given to you. In the game of life, we can only use what we’re given to forge our way to prosperity. Sometimes, we’re dealt a straight flush! Unfortunately, we were all playing UNO in 2020. That hand is completely irrelevant, much less beneficial. What am I supposed to do with a Jack of Clubs in UNO? Thanks for the lemons, 2020.

“Don’t cry over spilled milk.” On the surface, this seems like good symbolic advice, urging us not to be concerned with a past we can’t change. Unless you spill literal milk in the trunk of your car on the way back from the grocery store and that milk leaks to the bottom of the spare tire well where it shall remain for all eternity. Then I believe crying is an acceptable coping mechanism. They say that smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory. I’ll never forget 2020 as long as I own that car. Thanks for the lemons, 2020.

There are countless metaphors dealing with adversity and interrupted plans. Likely because life distributes an abundant and continual supply of upheaval. The composers of these inspirational phrases encourage us to convert this upheaval to a favorable outcome. Despite our initial complaints, we’re actually pretty adept at executing...when the risk is low. When life recently handed us lemons in the form of closed hair salons, we bravely cut our own hair. When life canceled the concert we planned to attend, we learned the ukulele and explored the artist’s catalogue ourselves. (Unless the song included an E chord - E chords are hard.) When life dealt us a crummy hand, we invented a game of modified poker/UNO where playing the Jack of clubs forces all opponents to skip a turn and draw 4 cards from the pile. These were small, fairly insignificant sacrifices that helped make sour situations a bit sweeter.

It’s not so easy to adapt when the stakes are higher. 2020 gave us some little lemons. But it also delivered us some overgrown, bitingly-bitter lemons. We can’t give them back because life didn’t include a gift receipt for which we might return the lemons for full refund (or even store credit.) The lemon customer service counter has been converted to a contactless, virtual interaction with choppy wifi. We didn’t ask for these lemons. But make no mistake, they are ours to deal with. At this point, my references are so cryptic and metaphorical, I’m not sure what I’m talking about anymore either. However, I do know this: we can’t always go back to the way things were. And in some cases, we shouldn’t go back. Some of our lemons are unforeseen opportunities, ripe with potential. They represent the source of a refreshing path forward. Instead of fighting to revert to a pre-lemony way of life, we can fight to acquire a little bit of sugar. And then go make some dang lemonade. If we can do that, 2021 will be pretty sweet.




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