Value Speak – by Joseph B. Walker


As we speak, three of my favorite women in the world, along with an adorable 18-month-old boy, are driving through the west Texas desert on a donut.

No, I don’t mean doughnut. They haven't slapped something glazed or powdered or coconut sprinkled on the car's axle. The donut upon which they are driving is one of those temporary spare tires that are supposed to last just long enough to get to the nearest tire shop so you can get the real tire fixed or replaced.

Assuming, of course, that the nearest tire shop is 15 or 20 miles away.

But these women are 100 miles from the nearest town. And they are driving a car that is heavily laden with suitcases and boxes and whatever else they could cram into it as the women and the toddler –– my wife, Anita; my daughters Andrea and Beth; and Andrea's son, Alexander –– make their way from Orlando to San Diego, helping Andrea complete a cross-country move.

As far as they’re concerned, they are having a great and glorious adventure. But I’m several hundred miles away and freaking out a little. What if they blow out another tire? What if they can’t find a new tire that fits the car? What if the guy who sells them the new tire is really buff and handsome and has his eye on Anita? What if Anita has to eat at – horrors! – McDonald’s? (There’s a story behind that concern, having to do with a then-pregnant Anita and an inadequately cooked McDLT. I think you can figure the rest of it out from there.)

The thing is, this is not their first “incident” on this trip. They were just barely out of Orlando when the luggage rack that they had installed on top of the car blew off. The rack was damaged so they couldn’t put it back on. And there just wasn’t room in the car for much more stuff – certainly not enough for the luggage rack, the crib and those boxes of books. So they crammed in as much as they could and left the rest in a pile a safe distance from the road.

“It was sort of like being a pioneer,” Anita told me as she described the scene.

I hesitated for a moment, scanning my memory of the history of the pioneers of the American West. “I don’t remember any stories about pioneers losing their luggage racks,” I said.

“They didn’t have luggage racks,” said Anita, in a familiar tone of voice that told me her eyes were rolling as she said it. “But sometimes, when they crossed rivers or climbed mountains, they found that their wagons were too heavy, so they just had to leave stuff by the side of the trail. It was kind of like that.”

I was still having a hard time seeing the analogy, but Anita was clearly into it, so I let it slide. But now that they are driving across Texas on a donut, with 100 miles to go until they can get a new tire, I’m kind of glad they lost the luggage rack and all that extra weight – pioneering adventure notwithstanding. I’m not saying the luggage rack, the crib and those boxes of books would have been too much for the donut to handle. I don’t know that. I’m just saying that with the safety of my wife, daughters and grandson at stake, I’m grateful for any edge I can get.

It’s interesting how often that happens, isn’t it? Something awful occurs, and we think it’s tragic. And then somehow, a few days, weeks or months later, it turns out that the tragedy was actually a good thing disguised as a bad thing. A neighbor’s frightening car accident – in which no one was injured, thank heavens, but their car was totaled – resulted in them being able to get a better car than they had before. A friend of mine blew out his knee playing city league basketball, and ended up marrying his physical therapist. A colleague’s husband’s health is deteriorating dramatically, but his ill health is moving him higher up the list of recipients for the organ transplant he so desperately needs.

Life is full of mixed blessings and bittersweet moments. The trick for us is to not be so overwhelmed by the bitter that we can’t recognize and appreciate the sweet when it comes along.

~ © Joseph B. Walker

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