What if your ‘horrbile, no-good, very bad day’ is simply protecting you from something much, much worse?
A week ago today, I had one of the most frustrating days I’ve had in ages.
I drove down to Oakland, California, in the East Bay, to meet a friend for lunch and see street- and mural-artist Bud Snow’s show in a local gallery there.
I stress out driving in the Bay area–so much traffic, many expressways and interchanges, I usually realize I’m a little low on gas on the way down (which was true this trip, too), and I obsess about finding a place to park. (Worse than Boston, if you can believe it.) In fact, there’s a funky gas station right off Hwy. 101 on the way down. But traffic was heavy, the line was long, and I didn’t want to be late. “I’ll fill up on the way back,” I thought to myself.
But I made the trip in good time, and found a parking space right in front of the restaurant. I met my friend, we found two seats in the crowded restaurant, and had a terrific meal. I thought, “Wow! It’s my lucky day!” I paid the tab, and we left.
My luck soon turned.
We were going to walk to the show, but I decided to drive us there instead. We found another good parking space, and I pulled out my wallet to get the parking. (My friend beat me to the punch, though.)
That’s when I realized my wallet was missing.
The next couple hours were spent calling the restaurant, retracing our steps, looking under the car that had taken my former parking space, searching my car (always an adventure), and then calling credit card companies and banks. (Jon said, “Why don’t you just put a hold on them? Maybe you’ll find the wallet!” My friend said tersely, “It’s Oakland. Cancel the cards.) Flustered, overwhelmed, unable to rally my good cheer, I decided to skip the show and head home, hoping to get a jump on rush hour traffic. Halfway home, I wish I hadn’t refused my friend’s offer of gas money.
The whole way home, I fretted about gas and the loss of a sizeable chunk of cash in my wallet. And the traffic was UNBELIEVABLE. Almost the entire way home, I rarely drove more than 20 mph for over 60 miles. The one-hour trip without traffic had taken me over three hours. And I still had to deal with more phone calls when I got home. (Jon didn’t realize we could ask for expedited service. Especially with the holiday weekend, we’re still waiting for our main household credit card to arrive.)
And then, on Monday, after I’d spent several hours getting my driver’s licence replaced, a little package appeared in the mail, postdated the Saturday right after New Year’s Day.
I knew instantly what it was. Sure enough, it held my credit cards, my driver’s license, and my health insurance ID.
I was instantly awash with a multitude of emotions.
Anger–did the person really think I would not cancel those credit cards immediately? What was the point? Why couldn’t they have sent the driver’s licence back sooner?
Then curiosity: Did they try to use the cards, and they were already cancelled. So they felt bad and returned them. A thief with a conscience?
Then, humility. How did I know it was the person who helped themselves to my wallet? Maybe someone stripped the contents, took the money, and dumped the cards? Perhaps someone had simply found the cards, and decided to send them back to me.
The handwriting was extremely careful–did the person deliberately disguise their handwriting, so it could never be traced back to them? Or was it someone young, who didn’t learn cursive? Or…was it an elderly person, or a person whose first language is not English? (You can see the wavering strokes…) No return address, of course. No note, my husband remarked. Did they simply not want me to think they were the one who’d taken the money? (As Jon always says, no good deed goes unpunished. He also liked the ‘Happy Holidays!’ postmark, while I noticed the ‘Forever’ postage stamps from 2012. Two of them, too, to make sure it would make it through the mail.)
Jon posted about this on Facebook. The comments were varied. “Mediocre Samaritan” was our favorite. (Update at bottom.)
On Tuesday, I took my car in for a maintenance check. And the report came back with disturbing news. My car needed new tires. How soon? I asked. As soon as possible, he said. Why?? A 2006 Scion we bought just before we moved here, they were probably the original tires. There were severe cracks in the sidewalls. We’d forgotten to check our tire pressure, and the tires were underinflated until a few days before. That could have affected very old tires badly. “You’ll be okay for a few days on surface roads,” the guy said. “But stay off the expressways. If those tires were to overheat, one could explode, and you’d lose control of the car.”
Stay off the expressways….
What if my day in Oakland had passed without incident? What if I had filled my tanks on the way down? What if there hadn’t been rush-hour traffic clogging the expressway for hours? What if I hadn’t been forced to drive slowly, and carefully, all the way home?
My friend Mary Ellen (who was the friend involved) put it best in her Facebook comment:
All our comments are our own lens on the world. I choose to believe there is good in most people and someone found it and returned it. There is no way to test that. Another might see some nefarious plot. It’s like a rorschach.
I have the resources to restore my life back to normal (such as that is!) I thought back about the money in my wallet. On impulse, the day before my trip, I’d stuffed a $20 into the collection pot for a charity outside a supermarket. It seemed excessive, but it felt like the right thing to do. I’m glad that was my last ‘purchase’.
Maybe, maybe, maybe, the rest of my money was a blessing in someone else’s life. I hope so.
What might have happened if I’d driven home at top speed, on uncrowded roads?
I heard the phrase, “Protection through rejection…” a few months ago. I instantly recognized the sentiment: Sometimes, the times we didn’t get what we wanted–the gig we didn’t get, the relationship that didn’t work out, the opportunity that fizzled–those “rejections” are actually protecting us, directly or indirectly, from something else.
There is simply no way to know the true story, nor the whole story. But the point is, it doesn’t matter.
And it doesn’t matter whether we believe we are under special consideration from a superior being, or fate, or whether we make our way through utter randomness in the universe. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is the lens we choose. What matters is the story we choose to tell ourselves. The story that marks our view of the world, our view of this life, and our place in it.
Me? I’m happy to be safely at home, my life approaching normal again. Happy with the story I chose to tell today.
Update When I posted this article on Facebook, several people shared their own experiences, including a friend who routinely used to find lost wallets and cards, and always returned the contents to their rightful owner. This is what I wanted to believe, and now I have the proof. Thank you, Barbe SaintJohn for sharing your story. Faith is knowing what to believe, hope is wanting to believe. You have solidified my faith.
Second update I was telling this story to two friends in Atlas Coffee recently, and they both told me they’d been driving on a freeway when their tire blew up. “It was like an explosion!” Ray said. “I was doin’ 70. Thought I was gonna die.” ” Closest I’ve ever come to dying,” said Mike. Thank you, lost wallet. Thank you.