August 17, 2017

It Only Takes a Moment

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

January 15, 2013 – I walked out to open the barn doors in yesterday’s record warmth.  It was a gorgeous afternoon.  Sunshine reflected from meltwater puddles.  The ground beneath them was still frozen.  The breeze from the west was cool and comfortable.  Blue sky sparkled.  In fact there wasn’t a fly in the ointment.  I hurried along, glancing down at my key ring, intent on selecting the proper one.  What struck me instead was the green sheen reflected in the puddle under the barn doors.

My first impression was that it was antifreeze.  My hand flew to my throat.  Ethylene glycol is a deadly poison.  Worse, it’s sweet to the taste.  Dogs, and particularly cats, love it to their ultimate demise.  The kidneys attempt to filter it, destroying themselves in the process.

I swallowed hard.  Antifreeze poisoning is not a pleasant way to go.

My next thought was my wife.  If I didn’t get the mess cleaned up before one of her animals lapped it, never mind the pet, I’d be dead.

My final thought was which tractor had lost its coolant?   What had failed?

Apparently I wasn’t bringing in firewood as originally intended.  Not this afternoon.

Heart rate tripled, I rushed to the doors only to realize that the green sheen on the puddle wasn’t antifreeze at all.  It was the reflection of the John Deere lawn tractor immediately behind the doors.  Of course it was inside the barn so I couldn’t see the tractor itself.

Whew!  My lungs emptied their contents with the whoosh of a punctured tire.
I leaned against the doors and collected my breath while looking out over our fields.

Why do I always infer the worst from the most trivial observations?  Like that time I was certain that the power was out and puttered around using only handtools  for the rest of the afternoon.  I finally discovered what really happened when the lights worked just fine my on return to the house.  I remember scratching my head.  “Did I pop a circuit breaker?” I walked back to the garage to check.

Yes.  That’s exactly what happened.

Well here I’d instantly assumed the worst again.  Furthermore, I wish I could tell you that these instances were isolated occurrences.  They’re not.

Why?

I pondered the question all afternoon while cutting wood.  It’s too easy an answer to say that my experiences continually prepare me for the worst.  That’s just cynicism.  My mouth twitched.  It might be true, but it’s cynicism all the same.

I tried another line of reasoning.  I started by counting my blessings.  My family is healthy.  My children are doing well.  Most of our debts are paid.  At least here at Levant, life is relatively peaceful.  We’re very fortunate.

In fact if the paranoia of continually expecting the worst from the most benign reflections is my most serious problem, I’m doing very well indeed.

Perhaps that knowledge is the root of my apprehensions.

Certainly nobody enjoys good fortune forever.

I have one friend whose mother just died.  There’s another whose mother is ill, a third whose stepfather just passed away.  Like everyone, I could go on.

I shut off the saw and put it down.  Then I inhaled the ringing silence and pulled off my helmet.  I looked around.  It is so beautiful here.

This isn’t the third Thursday in November but whoever you are, wherever you find yourself, whatever the date, thankfulness is always worth the moment.