January 21, 2008
It was Saturday. Like most folks who commute to a job some distance away, it was a chance to putter around with all sorts of things I can’t get to during the week, like gardening, cleaning out the shed in the back of the garage, which I call “The Barn,” because it’s easier than saying “the shed in the back of the garage,” working in the workshop, stuff like that.
One of the errands this weekend was to load up a bunch of recyclable stuff into the truck and take it all over to the recycling center, operated by the local church-run rescue mission for homeless men.
I wore my usual weekend work duds; torn camouflage jersey, stocking cap, not-very-clean denim bib overalls that still smelled smoky from an earlier barn-cleaning/trash burning operation, and worn-out work boots.
As usual, there were several mission residents helping folks sort and toss their recyclables. Typically, their appearance runs a gamut of sorts, but most look like they got a boot caught in Life’s stirrup and got dragged a ways.
A couple of the guys were helping a fellow in a burgundy SUV unload some bags of this and that.
I got everything, glass, plastic, cardboard, clothing, out of the truck and into the bins by myself.
As I was walking back toward the truck, the driver of the SUV gave me what I thought was a very brotherly look and said, with warmth, “Thank you.” Then he got into his SUV and trundled off.
I stood there, puzzled. Why in the world was he thanking ME?
Then, I looked down at my comfortable and very functional wardrobe, and it hit me. He thought I was one of the residents.
We got a pretty good laugh out of that, for awhile.
Then I got to thinking of all the paths I took that led me to where I am now, and all the paths those other guys took that led them to where they are now. I thought about how often those paths crossed and tangled, and how I ended up on a lucky path a time or two, sometimes more out of luck than by intent.
I also remembered stealing food, many years ago, so my wife could eat.
Long ago, a friend and teacher said there were no such things as luck or accidents. But she was an academic and always had been, and I suspect had not mis-stepped often in her life. I think those who believe they know where the road they’re on leads are fooling themselves, or praying out loud, or whistling their way past the graveyard.
So far, we don’t have GPS units for fate.
Probably in about a month, I’ll be back with another load for the Mission. I’ll haul the bags to the bins, and thank the guys who offer to help. And maybe actually help unload somebody else.
After all, one never knows where the path will lead someday, and it might be there.
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