16 January 2012

How to Be

I think it was the day I posted this photo that it all started to go downhill. Rather ironic, actually.

That was the day I left work at my lab for the very last time and walked to the parking garage with sadness and anticipation buzzing around in my head. I decided I’d grab a caramel apple spice (thanks, Mr. P’s students who continue to give him Starbucks gift cards for Christmas even though he refuses to enter the place!) and tackle some not-so-important errands. Tra la la, what a beautiful day!

That feeling lasted for the entire walk to my car, then evaporated when my car mysteriously decided that it, too, had reached the end of an era. It died in the parking garage, but restarted just fine, only to die every time I slowed to a stop on THE BUSY STREET by my university and the INTERSTATE IN RUSH HOUR and OH JUST KILL ME NOW because I am ALREADY DYING OF EMBARRASSMENT. I made it home safely, which is the best that can be said about that experience, because I didn’t run my errands and I really, really missed that caramel apple spice.

As it was officially new year’s weekend, not a lot of businesses were open, so we couldn’t do much about it just yet. We also couldn’t do much because Mr. P developed an awful headcold that very night. I nursed his health as well as I could with cold medicine and warm compresses and being super-quiet so he could sleep fifteen hours a day. For my efforts, I was rewarded with the same headcold delayed by two days. New Year’s Day itself was sort of a low point.

[Time out to mention that I was sick FOUR TIMES in 2011, after going a good twenty years with a single seasonal cold. So even though my body decided to wait until just after January 1 to bite the bullet (NICE TRY), I’m totally calling it five times in one year.]

The day after New Year’s Day was spent trying to figure out what to do about my car. It was nine years old, and most likely it was a transmission problem. Worse, the dollar amount we had in mind to fix it was rather low. We’d already spent that sweet spot just below the insurance deductible on this car last summer to replace a part that was stolen off of it. I didn’t write about that incident at the time, though I did allude to it in that Photo Friday post above. Still, remember that point because JUST YOU WAIT.

So, Mr. P made a few phone calls and found out that everyone wanted A BAZILLION DOLLARS to fix it. And a MILLION dollars just to check and see what was wrong with. Neither a million nor a bazillion dollars fit in our budget to fix a nine-year-old car, especially one that already had money put in it once this year. So, we test-drove a new car that Mr. P had in mind, having done his research in advance knowing my car was old and breaking. He said the new car was nice. I said... nothing, because I trusted him and was sick and didn’t care about anything except unclogging my sinuses.

That night Mr. P went out to get me more medicine to unclog said sinuses. While he spent ten minutes waiting at the pharmacy counter for promise-we’re-not-going-to-make-meth Sudafed, someone broke into his car and stole his GPS. Stop and think about that for a second: we’re down to one functioning car because of troubles related to someone stealing from us before, we’d both been sick, and when Mr. P, one of the nicest people ever, goes out to buy his wife medicine, he becomes a victim of theft again.

I burst into tears when he called, because that’s just heartbreaking. Plus, guess what’s programmed into his GPS? OUR HOME ADDRESS. Holy crap, do we need to brush up on Job to find out what’s going to happen next?

After the police came to write it up, I barricaded the doors to our home with chairs because I was sick and sad and felt incredibly violated. As I went to bed that night, I thought about all the misfortune that had happened in the last three days and, although it seemed pessimistic, braced myself for what could happen next. I decided our two most valuable possessions, barring WORSE health troubles, were our computers and our homes. So, I prayed that nothing happened to those.

The next day, Mr. P’s computer refused to start up. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING YOU GUYS.

By then it was officially not-a-holiday-weekend, so enough businesses were open that we could start putting out at least some of these fires. And really, we had no choice; Mr. P would have to go back to school-teaching the next day, and we would need two functioning cars (even sans GPS). So first item of business: purchase a new car to replace my beloved Jeep. Well, techinically, first item was to take a photo of me with my Jeep, before trading it in.

You know, at the time I thought I’d cleaned up pretty well for that photo, but geez louise look how sick I am. My jaunty pose is actually me leaning against the car for support.

While Mr. P booked an appointment at the Apple Store to check his computer, I cleaned out my car. It was... kind of gross, actually. While piling up the detritus of the last nine years, I found this:

Now, I am not the superstitious sort, but at that point, I couldn’t help but cling to that filthy old fortune. Mr. P and I are generally nice, optimistic people, but our ability to see the best in a situation was running thin. We were dealing with thieves and police, car repairmen and salesmen, and Apple Geniuses. While on cold medication. If this fortune had any truth in it, I would take it. I stuck it in my mirror to look at over the next few days, for encouragement.

So we went out and bought a new car after Mr. P stood his ground and drove a hard bargain (my contribution was to sign the check and cough all over the paperwork). Then we drove the new car to the Apple Store, where a nice Apple Genius checked Mr. P’s computer and sent it off to get a new hard drive. Fortunately that wasn’t the end of the world thanks to AppleCare and Mr. P’s responsible nature that backed all his work up, but it sucked to lose his computer when he needed to be preparing his lessons. When we got home that night, we were exhausted from putting out all the fires that had been set for us, but at least we had been able to try.

The next day Mr. P went to school. While there, he got a call from the secretary that he had something for him in the office. Fortunately, it was a good thing: a little gift from a former student he tutored. He remembered that, in the middle of all the disasters of the past few days, this student sent him a message asking if he would receive something if she sent it to school. “How nice of her,” he thought, delighted that she’d cared enough to send a nice note or, at most, some cookies or somesuch.

Inside was this:

That’s a brand-new GPS.

In the midst of the week’s challenges, Mr. P had posted about his stolen GPS on facebook. This student – who technically was not even in his class, but only came to his after-school tutoring sessions – read the post, and decided to send him a new one. Brand new – it was sealed in plastic before we opened it.

Mr. P just about fell over when he opened it. When he told me, I cried. It was not the first time I’d cried all week, but it was the first time I cried out of joy for good people and good hearts.

Because you see, it’s not about the things. It’s not the broken car, it’s the stress of trying to make the most responsible decision for how to overcome the situation. It’s not the broken computer, it’s the fact that Mr. P was about to start school and couldn’t prepare his lessons. And it’s not that we didn’t have a GPS anymore, it’s that someone stole from us, violated us, while Mr. P was getting medicine (he was at a pharmacy) . At no point did Mr. P and I forget how blessed we are in general throughout all the messes, trust me – we were thankful to have each other, at the very least, and the means to deal with it. But the way the universe kept punching us in the gut before we could recover from the last punch was really hard.

And then someone saw an opportunity to help... and did it. Again, it’s not about the things – like I said, Mr. P would have been thrilled to get just a nice note. Who cares if she spent her own money, or had store credit she didn’t need, or got a duplicate Christmas present. The thing itself doesn’t matter as much as her good heart.

Here’s how Mr. P describes this to people: some random, mean person came out of nowhere to steal his GPS. Then some (slightly less) random, nice person came out of nowhere to give him one. The two events are almost exact opposites, though they both evoke strong emotions. And as Mr. P said: if we can believe that someone would be so awful as to steal, why do we have so much trouble believing that someone could be so nice?

I tell you about all of this today, specifically, for a reason. Today’s a work holiday, for me and Mr. P and lots of federal and private workers and maybe you too, to honor a man with a really good heart who also did something for people who needed it. Obviously, the story of Team P’s start to 2012 is peanuts compared to Dr. King’s struggle, and I don’t mean any disrespect or diminishment by putting the two side-by-side. But recently experiencing someone’s goodness first-hand has me thinking a little more profoundly about Dr. King and why we are taking today to remember him and his work.

So I have a request for you – and for myself. Be good to every person, and do no harm. Each person you come into contact with deserves the dignity and respect afforded to every human being. Be that person who is so kind, people have trouble believing or understanding it. When someone needs help? If you can offer it, if you can give it, do it.

But just as importantly, when you receive help? As Mr. P’s student said: “Just pass it along.”


Tina said...

Sometimes... you make me even prouder.

michaelt said...

Good stuff. Looking forward to your next post.

The Universe is interesting place. Stay calm and things usually work themselves out.

Michael Taylor (GHS Band 71-76 Trombone)

Christal said...

just lovely.