It was past the time when I should have closed up shop. As I usually do when there are customers in the store at closing time, I had not locked the door, simply because I don’t want to rush folks out. Not to disillusion you, but it’s not out of concern for their feelings, but simply because I understand what I call the WalMart Principle. The longer a customer stays, the more they’ll spend. Why else do you suppose that the items you want most in the store are at the back of the building? Sorry, but if I get started down that path, we’ll never get back to the subject at hand, so we’ll leave that as an unfinished rabbit trail. Maybe we can mark it and discuss the philosophies of the business world another day.
Now, where was I? Oh yes…past closing time. As the late customers walked out the door, another car pulled up in a parking space right in front of the door. I have never pulled the shade down in front of an incoming customer and I didn’t start today. The two ladies exited the car and headed through the front entrance, apologizing as they came in for keeping me. The mom and daughter are quite familiar to me, having been frequent customers over a number of years and we greeted each other as friends do. Mom has a sweet personality, usually all smiles and cheerful and her daughter is not far behind. Good character is definitely something we teach to our children and they learn from us well. Come to think of it, bad character gets passed down all too frequently as well, but that’s also a rabbit trail for another day. We found the items they needed and talked jovially of nothing in particular. As she prepared to leave however, I went and spoiled the atmosphere by asking how they were “coming along.” The transformation was almost palpable, her cheerful facial features altered in a trice, replaced by a somber expression. The twinkle I had seen in her eyes a moment prior was replaced almost instantly with the dull look of melancholy.
“Well, we’re making it.” She forced out the words. It was a little uncomfortable for a few seconds, as I struggled to recover too, but we batted a few encouraging words back and forth and in another minute the smile was back, whatever memories she was struggling with back under control and replaced in the mental file they had escaped from. Moments later, the two pretty young ladies headed out the door, murmuring their thanks to me for allowing them to come in so late. I smiled as I locked the door behind them and immediately kicked myself, feeling stupid for causing my friend pain. I knew her situation, the horrible accident a few months ago, the hospital stay, the slow physical recovery, but most especially the horror of having watched another human die in the accident. My simple inquiry about how they were coming along had led to a replay of unhappy memories and emotions, right before my eyes. I was struck by the thought of how fragile the human spirit is.
Words. Just a few common words. A question we ask all the time without thinking was all it took to transport her from the happiness of light banter to the realization, the memory of deep sadness and hurt. But, even as I contemplated the alleged fragility of our emotions, I was struck again with how resilient the human spirit is in reality. For the most part, we bend, but we don’t break. This young lady had experienced a horror beyond that which most of us could ever imagine, but she is functioning. She is recovering.
Does the memory lurk below the surface, ready to awaken at a moment’s notice? Sure. And, once again the spirit sinks, but almost as quickly, it rises to the challenge and rallies. I do not say that the sadness, the depressed spirit is nothing; it is definitely something very real. It has to be dealt with and not just pushed down temporarily, to be reckoned with at another crisis down the path of life. What I am saying is that there is hope. Along with the Apostle Paul, we admit to being “struck down but not destroyed”. Bad things happen, but they are only one battle, not the war. The human spirit was made to fight and again and again we see it do just that…fight its way back from the depths of despair to live and flourish in the light of day.
I’ve always loved the story of the prodigal son in the Bible. Perhaps the best line in the story for me is what he says when he has reached rock bottom and has no way to go but up. Sitting in the filth, in poverty, and in a disconsolate mood, he finally turns his focus from his dire circumstances to his hope of redemption. “I will arise and go to my father…” What a great statement! I’m getting up and getting help. I’ll stay in this pigsty no more. A few of you know that I also struggle with the melancholy moods at times, but frequently all it takes to move into the light is the realization that I have to start moving. I will arise…
Much more could be said on this subject. Perhaps I’ll speak of it again, perhaps not. It would be interesting to me if some of you who take a turn into the dark once in awhile commented about your experiences (anonymously, if you prefer). I’m not sure, but it seems to me that we all share the journey in that direction to different degrees.
Of course, after all my talk about getting up and moving forward, it may actually turn out that the Possum Lodge motto, from the “Red Green Show” on public television, is the better way to approach the problem anyhow: “Quando omni flunkus moritati” Translation? “When all else fails, play dead.” You may decide for yourselves.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast…”
(Alexander Pope~English poet~1688-1744)
Originally posted 9/29/11
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.