Murphy’s Gremlins

Note: this page summarizes a book that I have tried more than once to write, but I have never been able to finish it.

We’ve all heard the saying called Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Some people say Murphy was an optimist.

When you are late for work and in a hurry to get there, traffic is heavy and you meet all the red lights. When guests are coming for the holidays, the floor drain backs up, and the kitchen floods. When you have a paper due for school and have almost finished writing it, the computer crashes. When the computer works again, that paper is the only file that has disappeared. When the water heater springs a leak, you discover the leak on Friday night and you have to wait until Monday to get the water heater replaced.

Murphy stated the rule, but he did not describe the gremlins. Murphy’s Gremlins live all around us, in the computer, the water heater, the floor drains, and the traffic lights. These gremlins are able to measure how important our machinery is to us. They are able to calculate when a break-down will be most inconvenient for us. They know just when things should go wrong, to make each day as stressful as possible.

A powerful gremlin lives in my car. It knows precisely when to keep my car from starting, the day I need that car the most. It arranges for a flat tire on a rainy day. It makes sure that, when I bring the car to the mechanic to fix one problem, another more expensive problem will show up in the garage.

City engineers try to time the traffic lights for the most efficient use of the roads. They cannot outthink Murphy’s gremlins. I have seen the light change for the side street when no car is there. Finally a car approaches, but before it reaches the intersection, the light has changed again, and the driver has to wait for all the traffic that had built up at the red light on the busy street to clear. Murphy’s gremlins watch for times like that. They love nothing more than to cause the greatest inconvenience for the greatest number of people.

Murphy’s Gremlins are responsible for inconveniences, not for tragedies. They cannot be blamed for earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Nor do they cause war, poverty, and crime. Murphy’s Gremlins cause the power to go out just when you are about to start cooking supper. They make the telephone ring just as the rice on the stove is almost finished, and they keep you on the phone until the rice has burned. Murphy’s Gremlins make sure that the phone call you were expecting comes while you are in the bathroom.

They have a sense of humor. If I buy a sandwich to eat at the red lights—for I will not eat while driving, not while the car is moving—then I will get green lights for the entire trip. If I clear my schedule and set aside an entire afternoon for a difficult repair project, things will fall into place and I will be done in half an hour. When I want to mow, the mower will not start; but if I really do not want to mow and would accept any excuse to put off mowing, the mower roars to life with just a half-hearted pull of the cord.

Murphy’s Gremlins are part of life, and most days we must accept their existence. They  enforce the law that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. They strive to bring the greatest inconvenience to the greatest number of people. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they can be beat.

I struggled with the gremlins for a long, long time before I discovered a system that leads to victory. I call it the TAP system, because its three steps are remembered by the initials T, A, and P.

T stands for trust. As twelve-step programs say, you must believe in a higher power. Things go wrong every day, small things and big things, but evil has been defeated by good. Trust that someone is in control, someone who cares about you and is bigger than all your problems. When the gremlins seem to be pulling ahead of you, take a breath and remember the higher power. Assure yourself that, because there is nothing that power cannot handle, therefore there is nothing that the two of you together cannot handle.

A stands for act. Don’t let your frustrations paralyze you. If a problem can be fixed, do what you have to do to fix it. If you need to call in a professional, make the call. Plumbing and electricity can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and the gremlins will definitely take over when you try to fix something that you do not understand. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to learn. If you have time to figure out how to replace a piece of pipe under the sink or a light switch, go ahead and do the job. Nothing feels better than putting a gremlin in its place by acquiring the satisfaction of a new skill or ability.

P stands for play. No, that is not a misprint; prayer comes under the category of trust. Find humor in the work of the gremlins, and learn to beat them at their own game. Buy a sandwich when you are in a hurry, and let the gremlins decide whether you get the green lights or the chance to eat your sandwich. Either way you win. Make a game out of the traffic lights. Pretend that the twenty lights between work and home are games on a team’s schedule, and keep track of the team’s record. If that gets boring, use your time in traffic to count things. Count Volkswagen beetles. Count yellow cars. Keep track of out-of-state license plates. If counting is not in your line, see if you can assemble a rainbow from the different colored cars around you on the road.

Play with the gremlins at home. Name them if you want. Talk to them if you want. Let them know that they cannot beat you. But do not forget that you are playing. You and I both know that Murphy’s Gremlins aren’t really there. They are simply a way of making small problems even smaller. They are a way to overcome frustration with humor. They are a way of reminding yourself not to take life all that seriously.

Murphy’s Gremlins can be beat, especially when you remember that they are not really there.

J.

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