One of the first shows I went to see when I lived in Chicago was, “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.” It was a musical review with songs about major themes of the 1970s – student protests, ghetto life, black power, and feminism. The musical style was a blend of gospel, jazz, soul, calypso, and soft rock. The show won several Tony Awards in 1973. That’s about when I saw it – almost forty years ago. What I remember most about the show is the rhythm of the title phrase, “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.”
That phrase comes to mind occasionally when I’m dealing with something that’s really bothering me and I think the situation is hopeless. It came to mind again this past weekend with the horrible massacre in the elementary school in Connecticut.
One of the tangents my mind went off on from this terrible story was – Is there anything that could ever drive me to the point of wanting to kill someone? The short answer to the questions is yes. (I’ll explain that more below.) Fortunately, I can honestly say that I never have killed anyone, even though I must confess that emotionally I have wanted to. So, how do I cope with the extreme emotions that make me want to kill someone? How do other people cope?
Growing up on the farm in southern Wisconsin, I quickly learned to become a problem-solver. When the hay baler broke, my dad fixed it. When a gadget in the kitchen broke, I figured out how to fix it. A career in business management may seem like an unlikely fit for a farm girl, but it really was a natural. My approach to any organizational problem was to figure out how to fix it. That approach carries over to my personal life, too. Whatever challenges face me, my immediate instinct is to figure out how to overcome the challenge, “to fix it.” I’ve learned to be quite patient with this approach. If my first solution doesn’t work, I look for another one. Killing someone rarely comes up as the solution.
The first time I remember the killing option occurring to me as possibly the only solution to a problem was when I was battling state regulators in the department of commerce and the department of health. Mim and I wanted to put an addition onto our farmhouse so that we could become a wheel-chair accessible bed and breakfast. We were increasing our size from three guest rooms to four and we intended to make the house as universally accessible as we could for an old farmhouse. Only five percent of the B&Bs in Wisconsin were wheelchair accessible. We wanted to become one that was, to begin to increase that percentage. The state B&B law had a provision that said B&B’s could not have additions built onto them. That provision had been a compromise measure when the state had last changed the B&B law several years ago to allow B&Bs to have as many as eight guest rooms, instead of limiting them to four guest rooms. The “No Additions” provision of the law didn’t serve any good purpose and was actually counterproductive to improving the quality of B&Bs. That provision of the law was enforced inconsistently throughout the state – some counties completely ignored it, others enforced it rigorously.
In our case, the local building inspector, who had to approve our plans in order for us to get a building permit, fought us tooth and nail, along with most of the state regulators in Madison. They were all committed to following the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law. We eventually worked out a compromise that permitted us to build the addition, but we had to conform to commercial building codes rather than residential codes, significantly increasing the cost of our addition. The negotiations took several weeks. We enlisted the support of the Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association, which gave us a louder voice. We continued the battle further after completing our addition. We worked with a state legislator in northern Wisconsin to get the law changed again so that no other B&B owners would have the same hassles we had. Additions on B&Bs are now legal – if the house is at least fifty years old. To get the votes needed to pass the new law, another one of those crazy compromise provisions had to be inserted. This one will probably have to be fought by someone else at some other time – a necessary evil of our contentious legislative process.
The whole process of working with state regulators was the most irrational and frustrating experience I have ever had in my life. I couldn’t believe how unreasonable the regulators were and how powerless I felt. I can remember saying to Mim in the middle of the negotiations, I now can understand for the first time in my life why someone would actually resort to killing a person. I was that mad. Fortunately, I didn’t have a gun. And, fortunately, I have been blessed with a lot of patience and self-control.
“Don’t bother me. I can’t cope.” Everyone has problems. Everyone has a breaking point. And everyone responds in a different way when they reach their breaking point – when they “can’t cope.”
One of my friends knows that she’s at her wits end when she starts wishing someone is dead. She doesn’t fantasize about killing them. She leaves that up to God. She says that God rarely fulfills that wish, but she trusts that God will eventually help her deal with the relationship problem.
Another friend knows he is powerless to fix most problems, so his attitude is to ignore them. Eventually the problems will go away, or at least they’ll stop bothering him.
The Bible has lots of examples of people who are given terrible circumstances to cope with. Job’s situation was probably the worst. He coped by trying to understand why all this bad luck was happening to him. In the middle of all his sufferings he said, “God has no right to treat me like this – it isn’t fair! If I knew where on earth to find him, I’d go straight to him. I’d lay my case before him face-to-face, give him all my arguments firsthand. I’d find out exactly what he’s thinking, discover what’s going on in his head. Do you think he’d dismiss me or bully me? No, he’d take me seriously.” (Job 23:2b-6 The Message) Despite all the suffering he went through, Job still trusted that God was in ultimate control. Even if Job couldn’t understand why God was allowing these things to happen to him, he would cope by trusting God.
I guess that’s what I should try to do, too. If I can’t fix a problem, and I can’t even fully grasp the reasons behind the problem, I can still trust that God understands what’s happening, and that God is ultimately in control of the whole situation. God understands my frustration, too. For now, that’s enough.