Eettickal: Laugh later

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

I don’t know what you all were doing last Saturday, but I was spending my time trapped in an elevator at a hotel in Chicago. With me was a number of my friends who, just like me, didn’t question how many of us there were until the door slid shut.

While we were trapped in that elevator, my friends and I experienced a wide variety of thoughts. We first were in denial that the elevator got stuck. Next, we checked to see if we had gone over the elevator limit—we hadn’t; we did the math. After we dealt with the worry that we might run out of oxygen, we just had to wait it out till the fire department arrived.

Beyond the initial concerns of our 20-minute elevator adventure, my friends and I reacted in various ways. While some found the situation hilarious, others did not. I, for one, didn’t find it an ideal time to learn that I am claustrophobic. So when I started to feel as if I was running out of oxygen, I told myself, “this will all be a great story in an hour or two. Right now, I just need to stay calm and be ready to cooperate.” 

And I was right. The moment we got out of the elevator, it became both a point of embarrassment—why did we think we were all going to fit in that elevator?—and amusement. It makes for quite a compelling, comedic story, and the situation quickly became water under the bridge as we all laughed together.

But the mentality I had towards the elevator incident wasn’t new. And in the hours after, I found myself contemplating what I had told myself, thinking about how it’s one of my favorite mindsets to have. When scary, inconvenient or annoying things happen, I can usually rest assured that it’ll be a great story one day. It’s a mindset that’s helped me a lot in my day-to-day life and has changed how seriously I respond to small events. 

I should start by prefacing that this ideology doesn’t extend to all life experiences. Certain experiences are awful and should never happen to anyone; they should be given the time, weight and attention they deserve. This mentality extends to the smaller, less consequential but irritating and inconvenient experiences in life—such as getting stuck in an elevator in a three-story building.

To give some backstory, since I was a kid, I’ve been the subject of many crazy stories. When I was three, my parents had to search with security to find me when I had gone missing in a department store. It turned out I was in a rack of clothes and firmly convinced we were playing hide-and-seek. In the moment, it was definitely terrifying for my parents. But once they saw my little head peeking out of the clothing rack, smiling without a care in the world, it became one of their favorite stories. Moreover, I’m not the only one with fun stories from my childhood; I’ve heard stories like that from many of my friends. 

However, as I got older, I wasn’t so much causing the chaos anymore as I was dealing with the consequences of it, as my parents had. At first, the weight of these new burdens really stressed me out. So many things that weren’t a result of my actions were impacting me, showing me how out of control I was with my life. Even if I was acting like the Goody Two-shoes, poor luck was enough to guarantee a troublesome outcome.

It took a few good, caring high school teachers telling me to “chill out, dude” for me to realize that lamenting the past and fearing the future weren’t going to do me any good. But what else could I do? As a chronic worrier, I didn’t exactly see all my options. It wasn’t until the end of my senior year that an alternate path presented itself. 

Music has always had a funny way of giving me messages I’ve needed to hear, and at that time, it was “100 Bad Days” by AJR that gave me a wake-up call. I remember listening to it for the first time and feeling the lyrics resonate with me: “A hundred bad days made a hundred good stories / A hundred good stories make me interesting at parties.” As a high schooler, the only thing I did more than worry was tell stories. Writing short stories, composing poems and performing plays and skits were my favorite pastimes. And what better stories to tell than the ones I knew best—the ones that were my own? 

As I began to open up and share my stories of crazy and annoying but minute experiences, I found other people’s reactions delightful. They were amused, they were intrigued and, best of all, they resonated with my experiences. It’s crazy how many people I’ve met who have tried to cut their own hair and failed miserably. And even if their stories weren’t exactly the same, their sentiments were. While I haven’t met too many people who’ve also written 27 pages of analysis in a night, I’ve met people who’ve finessed their way through forgotten calculus exams or put together impressive presentations 10 minutes before class. Despite setting ourselves up for high risk and unnecessary stress, we all found our way out alive.

That realization was such a relief. Knowing that others have small unfortunate events in their lives was reassuring in some way. Minor as they may have been, my negative experiences had brought about feelings of disappointment or dissatisfaction that could be isolating and disheartening. Sometimes, I had felt like my mindless choices had severe consequences, while others didn’t think twice about similar situations. So knowing I wasn’t alone was big. 

Framing those types of events as potential stories rather than bad experiences suddenly lifted a weight from my shoulders. I may not have complete control over everything that happens, but it is entirely in my power to decide how it affects me, how I perceive it and how it shapes my future. They may have been stressful events that controlled me at the time, but once they were over, they were my experiences to claim. They only shaped me as much as I let them. 

I fully understand that not all my stories may be so entertaining. Running on five collective hours of sleep for a week is nowhere near as entertaining as getting stuck in an elevator, but it’s the framing that matters. The framing of these stories as little plotlines in the bigger narrative of my life is refreshing to me, and it does wonders for me when I try to get my nerves under control. 

I don’t plan on cutting my hair by myself, I’d rather not go sleepless for a week and I’d definitely never want to get stuck in a packed elevator ever again, but I can’t say that I would absolutely undo any of those experiences. Life is about the small stories: the struggles that somehow brought me to where I am today. And even if those experiences make tomorrow tough, I know they’ll make for fun stories to share the next time I’m stuck with a group of people for 20 minutes in an elevator.