Stress is so common in today’s world that if you type the word “stress” into Google, you will get 151,000,000 hits. On the other hand, you can type the word “happiness” into Google and get only 73,200,000 hits. Does this mean stress is more prevalent in our lives than happiness? After watching people interact at the mall and on the street, reading the newspaper, watching the evening news and assessing my own life, I am inclined to believe that is exactly what the numbers mean. Stress is epidemic in our lives, but what can we do about it? Let go of or remove the stressful things in our lives? Easier said than done! Pray? Absolutely! Take a pill? That only covers the symptoms. Take a class on coping with stress? Great, if you are not too stressed to go to the class. So what can we do? I don’t know if there is an exact answer, but my granddaddy, the most laid back stress free man I have ever known, had a solution. He advocated rubber monkeys for coping with stress and life in general.
Granddaddy was a man who refused to waste time worrying or fixating on things over which he had little or no control. He believed there were three things a man had to do to live a successful, stress free life – have faith in God, recognize spilt milk and hug a rubber monkey. Sounds crazy, but it makes a lot of sense. You see, spilt milk is anything you cannot fix or make right – something that is out of your control, and a rubber monkey is that little saying or something that you can hold on to when stress and spilt milk enter your life. Rubber monkeys help you bounce back and move forward when life steps on you. I can still hear my granddaddy say, “There’s no need to stress or worry as long as you have faith in God and a rubber monkey in your pocket.”
Granddaddy had little patience with people who spent “good time” stressing over things they had little or no control over. When people around him started groaning and worrying, he would shoot them a rubber monkey such as, “Quit stressing! If you cannot do something about a situation, embrace something you can and move on,” or he might say, “Life is about the ability to bounce back. It is the ability to let stupidity, ignorance, and whatever the world throws at you bounce off and not ruin your day.” He was the best I have ever known at recognizing spilt milk for what it was – a waste of his time. He would say, “The sun is shining somewhere, so there’s no need wasting time or good sunshine on people or things that don’t matter.” He had a rubber monkey for just about any situation or occasion; unfortunately, some of his best ones are unprintable here.
Of course, people were sometimes offended by his aphorisms, but my granddaddy as gruff as he often appeared was not out to offend anyone. He just spoke it like he saw it with few apologies. My mama used to say that was why he did not have many friends and would never win a political election, the latter of which suited him just fine. He always reasoned that if the truth offended you, it was very likely that you needed to be offended or you were one of those poor worrying souls who was always looking for ways to be offended. Either way being offended was on you – you had control over that. To him, if you were offended by anything he said, you got what you came for. I can still hear him saying, “I have no time to be offended or time for folks who look for ways to be offended. Life is short, so grab a rubber monkey and hold on, it’s moving forward with or without you.” In other words, get over it!
One Sunday, I heard him tell his pastor after confronting him for preaching too long and allowing the Methodist to claim all the tables at the local café, “Preacher, if you are offended, get over it. Time is too precious to waste on such nonsense. Knowing when to open and close your mouth is a virtue.” His pastor was stunned, but the following Sunday the sermon was even longer. When granddaddy confronted him once more about being long-winded, his pastor smiled and calmly told him, “Floyd, get over it. Time is too precious to waste on such nonsense. Knowing your place is a virtue.” Granddaddy was speechless, but as he slowly walked away, a huge smile crept across his face. The next Sunday he invited the pastor and his wife to Sunday dinner at his house.
Although I am not very good at it, granddaddy taught me to use rubber monkeys to help me through troubling times. In fact, sometimes when tensions begin to build and problems pile up, I can still hear him say, “Jack,” always pronouncing my name as though it had two syllables, “grab a rubber monkey, and move on.” I have not always followed his advice, but when I do, I am amazed at how quickly the fog around me seems to lift, and my anxiety, hurt, or fear begins to subside. It is almost like magic, but the reality of a rubber monkey has nothing to do with any thing magical. Rubber monkeys simply help you move on with your life, so that the healing process called “time” can begin. Of course, I cannot say rubber monkeys always save the day, but I can assure you I feel better when I slow down enough to embrace them. They remind me that living is about learning to cope, and that sometimes the best way to cope with life is to take a step back, embrace a rubber monkey, and not take yourself so seriously.
To this day, I still listen for rubber monkeys to help me get through the spilt milk that causes the stress in my life. I am a believer in the power of rubber monkeys and the hope and smiles they instill in the hearts and minds of those who embrace them, and I hope you find rubber monkeys in your life as well to help guide you through the spilt milk in your life. However, if you are like me and struggle to find rubber monkeys, feel free to latch onto one of my granddaddy’s rubber monkeys (From time to time in the coming weeks, I will share more). He would have been honored. He loved God, life, and people, but other than God, he tried not to take anything too seriously – including himself.
©January 20, 2014, Jack Linton