It was the first carpool pickup of the new year, a return to routine and old habits. Like many of us getting back into the swing of regular life after a break, the woman in the driver's seat still had a bit of holiday lightness about her. It hadn't been the world's greatest Christmas, but she'd enjoyed two weeks with her family and had especially relished not spending so much time in the car. Still, here she was, back in her role as chauffeur, and so, out of long practice, she flicked the radio on to NPR. Out came the carefully modulated voices, talking of Obama and Boehner and Israelis and Palestinians and blah blah blah and if she hadn't just been on vacation she might not even noticed its effect on her. But she had just been on vacation, and she did. She felt her shoulders begin to slump and a feeling of gloom sweep over her. No particular news item caught her ear as uniquely depressing, but, it seemed, the very fact of it started to leach all the joy out of the air.
"It was doom and gloom and hopelessness," she said. "And suddenly I couldn't stand it. So I switched to a classical station -- and I never do that! But it felt like self-defense."
Within minutes, with speed that amazed her, the dark mood lifted. Her prospects seemed cheery again, and she thought (more) happily of the children she was about to collect.
Pulling into the car line, she noticed a friend sitting nearby, also waiting. It was still early, so she got out and went over to tap on the friend's window, to say Happy New Year.
The friend rolled down her window, and from her car radio poured the very piano sonata the woman had just used as a mood-altering drug.
"Say, I was just listening to that!" she exclaimed.
"You know," said the friend, confidentially, "I was listening to NPR and I thought I just could not stand one more minute of gloom and doom."
When I heard this story, it made me laugh -- because I, too, had moments before thrown off my own NPR-induced gloom by switching to a Spaniard playing classical violin. (I know the news story that did me in: It was Jeff Brady's report on how environmentalists and the Obama administration are cooperating to thwart oil and gas companies that have paid for permission to drill on public land out west.)
Holidays are in some sense a private time. We mothers, especially, tend to be focused during the breaks on our families, and on building something positive (like gingerbread houses, and happy memories).
Then the calendar changes, we're back in our cars, and, because we naturally want to be as informed as the next commuter, we navigate the traffic while listening to news of bad events that we haven't a hope of controlling.
Mind you, we can't control what they're playing on the classical stations either, but under the circumstances that doesn't seem to matter.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at email@example.com.