Last night I had a nice evening. After seeing some friends, chatting around a campfire I came home and went to my workshop after dark. I was reflecting in silence, sitting down in my cozy chair I keep at the far end of the workshop, and I was thinking about how, recently, I’ve been somewhat of a Grumpy Gus! So last night I was trying to relax a bit and reset my mind-frame. I was trying to get myself back into a more grateful attitude and I was thinking about writing something. I wrote a bit and felt better. Today I came across this story I had written several years ago, and thought I would share it with you. It was published in the Inverness Oran and I may have put it on my Facebook page back then, but here it is anyway. I hope you enjoy!
The Pursuit of Happiness
“If you want something, it will elude you. If you do not want something, you will get ten of it in the mail.” -Anna Quindlen
My mailbox has been relaxing its position for the better part of a year now. Its post has rocked the stones that support its base enough to allow it to recline as if it has nothing better to do than to sit there waiting for mail like a gluttonous monarch being fed bunches of grapes.
It was much to my delight then when the Canada Post survey of recent weeks seemed to leave my mailbox’s position unnoticed – or at least within acceptable tolerances. Ne’er was there a flag of green or orange or any other colour posted at the end of the lane to indicate any possible postal-related infraction.
Then, much to my dismay, along with envelopes and fliers and a credible certificate for a conceivable many millions of dollars (providing I respond in time along with, I’m sure, a few magazine subscriptions) there was a white piece of paper notifying me that my mailbox’s lackadaisical posture must come to an end. Indeed it should be moved ahead one foot as its current location at the precise corner where the lane intersects with the shoulder creates a hazard – or so they would have me believe.
The task of relocating my mailbox was not ignored, per se, just sent to the same pile as other relatively mundane projects like picking up my socks or watering the aloe plants on top of the television. Then, with alarm I received my second warning; my final warning. Move the mailbox… or else? When I was back inside later that day I picked up my socks. The aloe was next. Lots of time. It’s a desert plant.
So this Saturday past I was heading down Route 19 from Judique after filling up the gas tank at Wayne’s and I was off to Inverness for a meeting, a workshop in fact, of the Municipal Energy Committee, which I was very much looking forward to. I hadn’t checked my mail in a few days – the flag is more relaxed than the mailbox itself so much so as to be considered wholly unreliable – so at the end of my lane I slowed and pulled in, rolled down my window and reached for the mailbox door. Nothing. At least there were no more warnings.
I rolled up my window, looked behind to see if anything was coming, then steered myself back onto the highway and went nowhere. The wheels spun up front and I said to myself, “Not now!” I reversed a bit, then forward again. I was rocking the poor little Pontiac Pursuit and for an instant I believed I was free. It was like when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a long, long time and you know you should know their name and you’re about to say hello and you even remember what letter their names starts with but in the end all that comes out is “Hey… how are you?” I was that close to getting out – but the rocking of the car only put my back tire further down the edge of the ditch.
Lucky for me my father has a 4-wheel drive capable of pulling out my little orange coupe. Unlucky for me he wasn’t home when I called. So I walked – not that far, really, from the stuck automobile to my folk’s abode and borrowed his plow truck. Well, almost. The plow wouldn’t rise on the truck and when I pulled too hard on the switch the switch exploded in my hands in a fireworks of springs and clips all over the mats and on the driveway. Half an hour later I had finished reassembling the switch and found the faulty fuse that had bewildered me I was finally off to complete the tow.
A passerby stopped to help guide my car out of the ditch as I pulled with the truck and the third time I clipped on the tow rope it held without slipping off and the car made its way back onto the asphalt. By now I was completely late for the meeting in Inverness and I doubted whether or not to go. I drove my father’s truck back and parked it in his driveway then made my way back, on foot, to my car which was ready to make tracks again. On the walk back I decided to call my girlfriend just to fill her in on my adventurous morning and in response to her question about the state of the vehicle I told her matter-of-factly that there was no damage to the car at all. I mean, it was only some snow.
I decided to keep going. I had some other things to do that day along the way so I kept for Inverness. I might be late but at least I would be there for a part of it and would participate. I wasn’t in a rush. In fact I made a quick stop in Mabou on my way. Then as I headed up the hill, past the Freshmart, I heard an alarm and noticed, for the first time since I bought the car, the temperature light was blinking. I clicked through the settings of the digital display past the trip odometer and the gas mileage calculator to the coolant sensor. 140 degrees and I pulled off the road. I got out to check under the hood. The coolant tank was empty. I must be running low on coolant I thought. Strange – so sudden like that. I wheeled around and coasted to Archie’s Esso for a jug of coolant and some hot water.
The water poured out the bottom of the radiator as fast as I could pour it in. The tow rope! I busted my own radiator towing myself out of the ditch. I was in trouble here I thought. I wasn’t getting to Inverness that day. More importantly, how was I getting home? Either way the car was staying put, and so I figured it should be parked along with the others awaiting mechanical maintenance. I jumped in and turned the key. Nothing. Lots of battery power, but nothing. I slowly lowered my forehead to the steering wheel. You’ve got to be kidding me!
I pushed the car backwards into a proper parking spot imagining the cost of a new engine if indeed my little four-cylinder was seized. Would I find a new motor on kijiji? Maybe I’d be better off selling it for parts? I was starting to feel angry. Why did I even bother getting out of bed on a Saturday morning to go to this damn meeting in the first place? None of this would have happened if I just slept in!
Another call to fill in Laura on my continuing adventure led me to the realization that my mother was in Mabou that day working a Cursillo, a type of spiritual retreat, at the Renewal Centre. I could at least borrow her car to get home. I strolled the sidewalks, past the shops and through the slush, by the imposing, yet calming, church, and up the hill. I couldn’t help but feel I should have been taking that moment to reflect on my situation through another lens – perhaps one of gratitude, rather than anger or self-deprecation. I reminded myself of all the wonderful things I have in my life. I thought of how silly it was, in the grand scheme, to worry over large piece of metal and plastic and rubber that would never carry that same worry for me.
Then I did something I hardly do enough. I said a prayer. Not for anything in particular, but just to say thanks. Now, a moment of gratitude can strike someone without anything necessarily holy happening. Being thankful in and of itself, I believe, is at least a key, if not the doorway to living a happy life. But when I left the Renewal Centre in my mother’s car and decided on a whim to stop at the Esso and turn the key one more time, the engine roared to life and it sounded like nothing was wrong.
I still had a leak in my radiator, mind you. The metal didn’t repair itself or anything – but the engine wasn’t seized after all – and a major problem became a very minor one with only time and a proper attitude. In much the same way my earlier anger could have easily built upon itself, my thankfulness grew exponentially. I am truly grateful, if nothing else, than to have learned to give thanks.
But of course, the real root of the whole situation, the cause to the effects, and the means to the end of the story – is that if you get a letter from Canada Post telling you to move your mailbox, do it. You’ll be thankful you did.