I’ve recently felt a fresh urgency to listen to my life. I decided I would listen to it in a more disciplined way. Listen systematically, I thought; select moments of daily life – moments as mundane as say, going shopping, a trip to the auto mechanic, the hardware store, or arranging to meet with a friend for coffee. Life is just an accumulation of little things anyway. Small things are routinely overlooked in the busy minds generated by daily life. Only after the fact do they assume significance.
Anyway, it’s my desire to live more reflectively, to be more aware. In one sense, I’m thinking that, for an old man, with the time left to him, I don’t want to miss a thing. I’m looking for as much bang for my buck as possible. It’s going to be in the little things.
Meeting a friend for coffee is pleasant. I made one such arrangement recently. My friend was in Easton and I agreed to meet her at Dunkin’ Donuts at 10:30 on the Saturday morning of Labor Day Weekend.
Driving through St. Michaels to Easton on a holiday weekend is no cake walk. It’s total playground or a zoo, as some might say. I must keep a sharp eye out for rental bikers; most are without helmets and they weave uncertainty from the curb then out into the middle of the road. They create a climate of unpredictability equal, if not greater than, the future of any octogenarian. There’s no way to know when or in what direction they’ll go next.
Pedestrians wander into the street. Admittedly, it’s sweet seeing so many people of all ages holding hands and with smiles of affection on their faces. In their bliss, however, they are either disdainful or oblivious of crosswalks. They’ll suddenly emerge from between two parked cars, only to appear right in front of me. I break the car suddenly; they’re startled and quickly uncouple their hands, throw them out defensively, and I feel terrible as if I’ve just ruined their weekend.
Traffic moves at a caterpillar’s pace. It’s a mixed blessing. To get anywhere takes forever, but when I consider how many bikers’ and pedestrians’ lives have been spared as a consequence of the creeping traffic, I don’t feel as aggravated. Even time seems to slow down. Actually, slowing down and enjoying protracted time is a plus at my age; I always complain about how fast it goes.
I made it through St Michaels. Suddenly, my car behaved strangely. I had a flat. I bumped along to Graul’s parking lot. I parked, and what should have been local business, turned out to be interstate commerce.
The day was hot. Fortunately, there was a light breeze and I opened the doors. I called the towing service. A chirpy voice asked how she could be of service. I needed a tow. “No problem,” she assured me. She needed more information. She’d text me and I could give her the needed information. It went downhill from there.
I’m inept in the use of electronics. I have marginal skills and texting required a series of maneuvers that immediately confused me. I called her back and arranged to deal with her directly on the phone. She told me that it would be hard to find a tow on a holiday, but she was sure she’d find one. ‘Probably’ no more than three hours, she said cheerily.
No wonder ‘probably’. Her call was made from Tucson, Arizona, a long drive for any wrecker to find a disabled car in St. Michaels. But there you have it. I resigned myself to my fate and called my wife. She’d be able to pick me up in a while.
I sat in the hot car watching shoppers come and go. I was stuck there, hot and sweaty and in a foul mood.
When I feel irritated, I start taking everybody else’s inventory. It’s another way of saying, I look for faults in everyone I see.
The first targets of my pique were SUV’s. They were everywhere, like a pack of pterodactyls, each of monstrous size, with insatiable appetites for gas, and driven, not by a mom with six kids – which would make sense. The driver was typically an old lady by herself. She must remember the long lines during the gas shortages and should know better. Why not a Humvee or a tank, lady?
Then I’d spot patrons coming out of Grauls, going to their cars and leaving their carts in the parking space. “Inconsiderate, mindless behavior,” I’d grumble to myself.
I saw one truck pulling in the handicapped space. The driver, a young man, sprung like a rabbit from the car and made for the store’s entrance with a sure stride. Handicapped, my foot. A vulture, preying on the disabled.
A huge SUV pulled in next to me, close enough so that I had to close two doors. My heart sank. “Why me?” Still another personal insult.
The driver looked at me, and immediately backed up and parked in such a way as to afford me plenty of room to maintain my opened doors. An elderly couple got out and the man came up to me. “Is there anything I can do to help? I see you have a flat.” He then assured me he’d help in any way he could; drive me somewhere; pick me up later; he’d be more than glad. His wife, standing beside him, smiled and nodded in agreement.
My critical mood was transformed in a veil of shame, and I was momentarily speechless. What I’d lost of real value I’d found, but not because I had been looking for it – I’d been too busy bemoaning my situation to even consider it – but, because someone had seen what I needed and showed up offering to give it to me.
I had a lot more than a flat that day. Circumstances ground me to a halt. They prevented me from getting to where I planned to be. And while I had been stalled, what happened during the hiatus was worth far more than any timely arrival.
If there’s a moral to this snapshot of daily life, I’d say it was this: moods change all the time; goodness never does.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.