I’ve always wanted to start a blog posting with something like that, but now that I read it on the page, it doesn’t come anywhere near “Call me Ishmael,” the opening line of Moby Dick.
But I am a cynic and more than a little immature. I’m trying to do better (you’ll notice how I let the ‘Moby Dick’ thing slide right by without calling attention to it in an immature way. Crap, I guess I just did. Dammit.). The point is I am trying to do better.
The immaturity aspect is still a work in progress, but I’ve made a couple of big leaps on the cynic thing. I’ve always been a glass-is-half-empty-and-will-probably-crack-as-I-drink-from-it-and-bust-apart-shredding-my-lips-to-ribbons kind of guy. I’m 52 years old and so have seen what I think of as my share of ugly things in the world. I’ve also experienced what I hope is enough of my share of ugly things in the world.
Regrets, I’ve had a few.
Yet, there have been some things happen the past month or so that have squelched a good bit of my cynicism (and, if you’re one of those who keeps track, I get bonus points for using ‘squelched’ properly in a sentence). I have seen some things and I’ve done some things. And I’m just self-reflective enough to be able to attach some kind of meaning to those things.
I think it actually started late summer of this year. I took my ancient Sears lawnmower out and mowed our lawn. This in itself is a small miracle, because the mower is over 20 years old and every summer I think it will be its last, but the damn thing just keeps chugging along. Like me, it has some groans, coughs and sounds a bit addled, but it never says die. Once every couple of years I treat it to a new air filter, a change of oil, a new blade and a new spark plug and you’d think I’d taken one of those huge adrenaline syringes and jammed it straight into its heart. It surges onward once again. I think I actually love that old mower. Not like you love your wife when she slinks out of the bathroom in a teddy kind of love, but like an old faithful dog kind of love. There has been a time or two when I’ve even wanted to hug it, but I learned quickly after my first no-hugging lesson with its hot muffler.
Anyway, back from the digression (but you know, I really do love that mower).
I’d finished mowing our lawn and was pushing the mower back into the garage when I thought of my neighbor and her lawn. She’s about my age and lives alone and has a small patch of lawn in front of her house. I walked down to the front of her house and saw that her lawn was getting pretty long. And as luck would have it, no one was home. I pushed my mower over to her house, mowed her lawn, bagged up the clippings, and made it home without anyone knowing who did it.
The best part? I didn’t tell anyone.
I’d actually done a fairly good deed and didn’t feel the need to climb up on my roof, pound on my chest, and shout out to the world (well, neighborhood) what I had done.
Crap. Maybe that’s what I just did in writing about it here.
But anyway, it doesn’t take away from the event because my readership hasn’t really extended into world-wide status yet, so she’ll still probably never know.
The next events that caused me to be able to cut back the load in my cynical tanker truck were events I witnessed. Two people I know recently had loved ones pass away. Both handled it with strength, grace, and even gratitude to those who supported them. In their place I’d have been calling God out to a street fight, mano a mano, and when he didn’t show I’d have cursed him for a coward and sadist. Yet one publicly expressed her gratitude and shared her story, while the other one still insisted on making her killer sticky buns for an entire staff of well over 100 people the week before Christmas.
Now, I’ve said I’m cynical, but anyone who can honestly express cynicism in the face of how these two handled their loss not only has a screw loose, but you can still hear it rattling with their head up their backside.
Finally, the coup de grace to my tanker full of cynicism were two relatively small things I’d done that meant a lot more to the other person than I would have ever realized. The first was when I stopped by my local gun shop. I’m not a hunter anymore, not because I’m against it, only because my work schedule and hunting seasons don’t coincide very well. But I still like to go to the range and do some shooting now and then.
While in the gun shop I saw that they only had two boxes of .22 caliber ammunition available. One customer picked up one of the boxes and I picked up the other. They were pretty big boxes at a decent price. The store had other ammunition, but the boxes were brighter and shinier or something, so they were priced about half again as much. As I was looking at some other things an elderly man came into the store. He looked to be in his eighties and had heard the store had .22 shells and he wanted to get some for his son for Christmas. The clerk showed the man some of the pricier shells he still had and I could see from the man’s face that the price kind of knocked the wind out of him.
I thought about it for a minute, knew that I had .22 shells enough at home to get me by, so I offered to give the gentleman my box so he could purchase it. At first he was skeptical, wondering what kind of ploy I was attempting. Then when he realized that I was just being nice he gave me a huge smile and thanked me. I went out to my truck and as I started it, he left the store with the box of ammo waving and smiling to me with more enthusiasm than I thought was warranted.
But you know what? Doing something nice really made me feel good. I rode that wave of feeling good the rest of that day.
The second thing happened last night. Christmas night. There was a knock at the door. As per usual the dogs went apeshit and began barking as though the whole Manson clan was trying to break into the house. As per usual, I beat them with a rolled up newspaper until then ran out the sliding glass door to the back yard to watch what horrors were about to befall us from the knocking menace.
At the door was an elderly man. It was really cold and he wore only a light leather jacket for warmth. My cynical radar went into hyper-drive. What the hell was he selling on Christmas night? Does he have a weapon? What horrors were about to befall us from this knocking menace?
He apologized profusely for interrupting our evening and explained that he was in town from Vancouver visiting his son and his son’s family. He had been out for a walk and had gotten lost. He wasn’t sure where his son’s house was, but knew it was near a school and if he could get to the school, he thought he could get to the house.
I gave him directions to the school and he thanked me, apologized again for interrupting our evening and turned to go.
I don’t have a little voice inside my head. I have a huge voice inside my head and when it speaks, it usually yells. And it usually starts off with: “You asshole!”
My inner voice went on to say, “Offer the poor man a ride! You asshole! You just gave him directions to walk down a winding road with no sidewalk and no streetlights in the dark! You asshole! Offer the poor man a ride!”
Me: “Sir, if you’d like, I could give you a lift. No trouble at all.”
He turned slowly toward me and smiled.
Him: “You know, the way I’m feeling right now, I think that would be a good thing.”
I asked him to wait a minute while I got my coat and keys. As we drove down the road we introduced ourselves and he must have thanked me a half-dozen times. We found his house. He thanked me again. He apologized again for interrupting my evening. (Truth be told, my evening was being spent playing the mind-numbing game of Tetris.) I told him that it wasn’t a problem and that I was glad to do it.
I felt pretty good about that. I did another good deed. I haven’t felt a drip of cynicism all day today. This doing good deeds shit could become habit forming.
Just now, the man came to my door again. As per usual I went through the whole barking of the dogs and the beating of the dogs thing before I could open the door.
Elderly gentleman: “Hi William. I just wanted to stop by and thank you again for helping me last night. It was a very nice thing for you to do.”
Me: “Honestly, it wasn’t a problem at all. I’m glad I could help.”
Elderly gentleman: “I’m not always the best with words, so I wrote this and wanted to give it to you.”
Me: “You really didn’t have to do that. Again, I’m glad I could help.”
We said our goodbyes and I went back into the house and read his note. This is what it said:
Thank you for being a “Good Samaritan” and my “Guiding Star” on Christmas day. I sincerely appreciate your directions and your offer of a ride to our son’s house.
I not only had become lost on my walk, but my diabetes had plunged my blood sugar too low and I was disoriented and a bit confused.
Thank you for your rescue. I will always be grateful for your help…for all Christmases to come.
Thank you again.
I didn’t cry. My eyes got a little watery, but I’m hanging onto my man points and blaming it on the dogs.
I’m not saying that I won’t ever be cynical again. It wasn’t some Christmas miracle or any crap like that. It was too small and yet so significant that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to build up to the same level of cynicism I had before.
So who gave who the greatest gift? I think I came out way ahead on that deal.
This may sound selfish, but I’m going to try more diligently to be on the lookout for chances to do something good just for the sake of doing good. It does wonders for my ego and in keeping my cynicism level under control. When it comes to good deeds, I’m going to try and adopt a “Don’t think, just do” attitude.
But I’m going to hang onto more than a little immaturity. Otherwise no one would recognize me anymore.
Be well. --William