Vantage Point

It Started With an Oil Change...


It was a beautiful summer day, but it began with a few glitches and it only got worse. For one thing, it was hot. I don’t like hot weather, and when it’s really hot all I want to do is sit around and drink ice water. I certainly don’t want to engage in exercise.

I had an appointment to have the oil changed in my car, but when I arrived on time at my mechanic’s station, the genial young man who was going to do the work wasn’t ready yet. He told me that he had to finish work on another car and call the owner, and then he would service my car. When he said it would take 45 minutes, he meant that my car would be finished by then, but I thought he meant he would just be starting. I said, “I can’t wait for 45 minutes,” meaning, “I can’t wait for 45 minutes until you start work on my car.” So I left the car with him and walked home. The distance is close to a mile, which is fine with me at any other time of the year—even winter, if the sidewalks are clear—but not when the temperature is nearly 90.

I stopped at a store to look for gifts for my two grand-nephews—one a recent preschool graduate and the other marking his third birthday—but I was in no mood to shop, and nothing struck my fancy. So I just went home and ate a belated breakfast. Then I reluctantly headed out into the hazy heat and walked back to the service station. My car was done and all was well, but I was still feeling as though my day was off-kilter. So instead of heading home, I detoured to a nearby park on the shore of Long Island Sound for some peace and quiet and sea air. Though my mood had improved, I felt as though I could move the needle farther into the “happy and peaceful” section of my mind. The sea helps me to do that.

At the park I made my way to my favorite seat, a stone bench alongside a gazebo, overlooking the water extending toward the horizon. It occurred to me that this was not only a good time and place to collect my thoughts and record a few impressions in a small journal I was carrying; it was also a good time for some quiet prayer. The day started to look a lot better.

Just then two women who were having a lively chat entered the gazebo, sat down and kept on talking. Their voices were not noisy enough to be disturbing, but were loud enough to preclude prayer or any kind of quiet thought.

The irony hit me like a breaking wave: After a day that began with a series of annoyances—admittedly minor, but frustrating just the same—peace and calm had begun to fill my mind and heart, only to be blown off course by the chatter behind me. I felt annoyed and frustrated, so I did the only thing that seemed appropriate at that moment.

I started to laugh.

Not loud, and not sarcastically. I wasn’t laughing at the women. If I was laughing at anyone, it was myself. I had arranged everything so perfectly to restore my equilibrium and good cheer, and then life blew in with a surprise gust that capsized my plan. I wasn’t completely self-absorbed; it occurred to me that the women might have needed to refresh their spirits just as much as I needed to refresh mine. And of course they had as much right as I to find joy in that place, at that moment.

I sat there and watched as a spotted-brown mother duck with eight ducklings swam past the rocks along the shore. A few minutes later the women left the gazebo, still talking. I stayed on for a while, enjoying the silence and making a few mental notes, one of which was: To improve your mood, try laughing. Including laughing at yourself.


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