July 25, 2016 § 7 Comments
Years ago, I wrote out a list of my strengths with the misguided notion that if I reviewed the list often enough, I could actually rewire my genetic tendency toward perpetual self-doubt.
One Saturday, a week after my fiftieth birthday, I’d felt imperfect as hell and pulled out the list. I’d had a hard week. Among other things, I’d forgotten my address while filling out an AARP form—it was as if touching the form itself, had flipped off my hippocampus and I was now forever chained to the sinking ship of memory loss.
I stared at my list of strengths and felt anxiety rather than comfort. The problem was not that I knew these words were actually reframed flaws—pigheadedness disguised as confidence, indecisiveness spun into flexibility. The problem was that most of my strengths required my mind, and I knew where that was headed.
Mid-way down the list I noticed the word compassionate. Aha! There we go! A trait that evolves from the heart—an organ I was still feeling pretty good about. Empowered, I strategically moved “compassionate” to the top of my list, and committed myself to deepening its development.
My shit shield now sturdy enough to re-enter the world, I headed out to the farmer’s market to feel the love. The sun beamed enthusiastically, so I cranked down the roof of my VW bug and cranked up Marley’s, Love Is My Religion.
I’d driven maybe a ½ mile down the road, when out of the slits in my car hood, a small rodent emerged. We made eye contact. He stood stock-still for only a second before leaping onto my side of the windshield. He stared straight at me. I could see the tiny pink suction cups between his sharp little nails and then—scritchscratchscritch, he began to climb up the windshield, his quivering nose in the air.
I knew what he wanted.
He wanted to bite me with his pointy little teeth, his secret rabies injectors. He didn’t seem the type who cared a bit if he caused an accident, maybe even a death. His predicament was making him irrational and I could see it on his face.
“Holy shit!” I yelled as he climbed higher and higher up the window. I couldn’t bring the car top up because I had to be stopped to do that, and I couldn’t stop because there was a ditch to my right and a line of cars behind me. And then, I had a brilliant idea—the windshield wipers! I flipped them on– but what does the little vermin do? He grabs on with one hand, ok claw, but god those claws look like the kind of tiny horror story fingers you’d see in a Stephen King movie.
So there he was flying back and forth, back and forth, across the windshield like a trapeze artist receiving a good day’s pay and fulfilling a life’s dream. I switched the wipers to hyper-fast mode. He accepted the challenge and grabbed on with both claws, his legs and tail flailing out behind him, and his face stretched out tight as a Kardashian’s.
“Alright you little Willard wannabe,” I shouted while trying to stay in my lane and wondering if this was how I was going to die—fighting off a mouse in my car. Time to get serious. I pressed the window washer button. Through a soapy blur I saw the flying fugitive release the wipers and land back on the windshield directly facing me, blinking the water out of his eyes in such a sorrowful way that I turned off the washer, wipers and Bob Marley. Clearly, love was not my religion.
I watched as the mouse, a glaring metaphor for my absolute lack of compassion, slipped backwards on his hairless tummy, his drenched body sliding down the hood, neck and arms stretched out wide as he tried to hang on—until finally, he disappeared over the edge.
I arrived at the market and sat in my car. Guilt and doubt taking their rightful places. What kind of monster had I become? I used to be the one in the room who would catch a wayward fly in a tupperware rather than smash it with a swatter, who would fling the winged creature out the window calling, “fly little fly, fly!”
Then, on the ground in front of me, I saw the mouse standing on his hind legs with his back toward me. He cocked his soggy head side to side and ran straight for the cheese booth.
That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t about me. It was about the mouse. He probably had persistence at the top of his list.