I just remembered a story my father related to me on more than one occasion. I’ve always though of it as Dad’s Jack Story. A little research today quickly reveals the lineage, or part of it. Turn’s out that this is a “Danny Thomas signature story. Here it is.
“There’s this traveling salesman who gets stuck one night on a lonely country road with a flat tire and no jack. So he starts walking toward a service station about a mile away, and as he walks, he talks to himself. “How much can he charge me for renting a jack?” he thinks. “One dollar, maybe two. But it’s the middle of the night, so maybe there’s an after-hours fee. Probably another five dollars. If he’s anything like my brother-in-law, he’ll figure I got no place else to go for the jack, so he’s cornered the market and has me at his mercy. Ten dollars more.”
He goes on walking and thinking, and the price and the anger keep rising. Finally, he gets to the service station and is greeted cheerfully by the owner: “What can I do for you, sir?” But the salesman will have none of it. “You got the nerve to talk to me, you robber,” he says. “You can take your stinkin’ jack and . . .”
Upon a little reflection,seems to me, that I’ve been down that road with a flat tire and no jack many, many times. Making assumptions, creating scenarios from them, working myself into a state, and acting in accordance… but of course, not acting in accordance with what was REALLY happening in the moment.
Years ago, we moved into a new neighborhood- our son was 14 and fond of playing rap music, playing loud rap music on his boom-box. We had a neighbor two doors down, an older woman who we would often see walking, walking past our house, or a mile away making a long loop home. Her stride was always fast and determined, she looked straight ahead, and it seemed to us that she had a perpetual angry and sour look on her face. Certainly when she walked by our house, she never slowed or made the slightest gesture in our direction. We quickly decided that Hildegarde was probably annoyed or worse by the sound of that rap music. She didn’t like us and she really didn’t like our son.
The first time we ever spoke a word to her must have been 5 or 6 years later. She was still walking that long loop every day. She knocked on our door and introduced herself to Liz who was home at the time. The purpose of her visit? She asked Liz if she could pick some of the wildflowers that were growing in our front yard. (We’d traded a small lawn for wildflowers and a raised bed vegetable area.) She quickly added that the flowers were for her son who had recently been diagnosed with a late stage cancer, and that he loved flowers… but only wildflowers. Then Liz learned more. Just about the time that we’d moved in, H’s husband had died of cancer. These long walks that she took were her way of healing from this great loss. What we’d interpreted as anger was much more about loss. For six years, assumptions we made and a story we’d told ourselves had shut the door on the possibility of knowing our neighbor and what she was going through.
More years passed, and the time came when Liz and I jumped at an opportunity to live in New Mexico (the subject of another post) It was a good time for our son to be out on his own. Long story short here. When Hildegarde heard that we were leaving, she immediately asked what our son would do? Where would he live? She would be happy to offer him a room in her house. She had always thought of what a nice kid he was.
I sit here, wondering what other opportunities for authentic engagement with others I’ve missed, what problems I might have more easily solved, what challenges more easily overcome had I not filled my mind with assumptions, scenarios and limiting beliefs. Perhaps I’m doing that right now…
You knock on a door to ask for….
What are you thinking?