A year ago I wrote a “but at least column” organized around a central idea of juxtaposing two crappy elements of a single situation that, paradoxically, make you feel marginally better about it. For example, for the smoke-choked summer of 2021 the “but at least” would be “It was too smoky to set foot outdoors without an N95, but at least every time I did I got stung in the face by yellowjackets.”
Typically a phrase of consolation (“we didn’t win the game, but at least we played well”), in this context “but at least” is designed to really make you embrace your predicament — to lean into it, to acknowledge the futility of any possible other outcome, and, eventually, to laugh about its ludicrousness.
Well, you people sure know how to make “but at least” a team sport! If it’s indeed true that misery loves company, we are all surrounded by comrades. You got right into the “but at least” spirit and wrote to let me know about your own situations, which I have been stockpiling until I had enough of them to write another column about it. So here goes:
“In late June I was rear-ended by a big speeding pickup on the highway at Signal Hill Road, but at least it was 114 degrees while I lay on the pavement waiting for the ambulance.”
“Our daughter got COVID while she was visiting a college abroad and couldn’t stay in a hotel alone since she was underage, but at least she knew absolutely no one in the country.”
“The kids came home after school and ate the leftovers I was counting on for dinner, but at least they left all their dirty dishes in the sink.”
“I stepped on a sewing machine needle and embedded the entire length of it in the ball of my foot, but at least the first appointment I could get to have it removed was nine days away.”
“Our daughter’s student visa to attend school in Scotland was issued for the wrong day and she had to leave and re-enter the country through the EU by plane, but at least the ticket was expensive.”
“I pledge a fraternity and earned a 2.4 GPA that semester, but at least my girlfriend got pregnant.”
“We weren’t sure our negative COVID tests would arrive in time for us to cross the Canadian border to take our son to college, but at least we had no place to stay when we got there.”
“Bottom of the 12th my baseball team goes 1-2-3 on maybe five pitches total, but at least our worst hitters were up the next inning.”
COVID provided myriad “but at least” opportunities in the past year, but at least it’s far from over.