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  • Marilyn Saltzman

A lucky, lumpy day

“Life is lumpy.  A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” Robert Fulghum

Suffering from a head cold, I tossed and turned for a good part of Thursday night. So when Togo, my dog, began barking urgently at 6:43 a.m., waking me from a deep REM sleep, I buried my head under the blanket and tried to ignore him. Irv remained fast asleep. I thought I heard the shrill ring of the doorbell, but the barking was so loud I couldn’t tell for sure. I reluctantly struggled into wakefulness, wiggled from bed and went down to the living room.

Turning the thin wooden rod to open the slats of our blinds, I saw the flashing red and blue lights of a state patrol car. I rushed to the front door as he made a U-turn and pulled away, his business card left on the doorstep. As I looked to the right, the reason for his early morning visit became obvious. A white VW, yellow police tape across its hood, was firmly planted against our tree stump, one wheel in the air, the other three resting in the deep ditch at the roadside above our house. Tree bark and shards of broken glass littered the driveway. We had left the stump, a meager reminder of the once proud fir that had marked the edge of our driveway, after we had cut down the dead tree, victim of a prior car crash.

A few minutes later, a tow truck showed up to begin extricating the car from the ditch.

“Do you know the driver? Is he all right?” I asked, glancing at the wildly skewed angle of the car in the ditch.

“I think so.” Obviously he wasn’t going to share much information.

A man in a silver SUV pulled up next to the tow truck. Wearing a yellow jacket and jeans, his gray hair looking as uncombed as mine, he got out of the car and approached me.

“This your house?”

”Yup.  This your car?”

“My wife’s. She was driving to work at six this morning, leaned over because some hot food was sliding on the passenger seat and missed the curve.”

“Is she all right?”

“I think so. Her back hurts.”

We watched silently as the tow truck maneuvered the car out of the ditch. I felt grateful that the driver and my property were basically unscathed. Our water shutoff valve on the side of the ditch remained firmly planted in the ground. The tow truck operators swept the debris from the driveway.

Everyone left, and I went about my day, taking the grandkids to Big Time Fun Center and to lunch at Noodles and Company.

I dropped them off at 5 p.m. and headed home, daydreaming about a cup of hot tea and my red plaid flannel pajamas. Fifteen minutes into my 20-minute commute, traffic on the interstate came to a halt. All I could see ahead was a snaking line of red brake lights. I called Irv. We talked for 10 minutes as I progressed 10 feet.

I sighed, my normal impatient reaction to a traffic jam beginning to bubble up. I was tired; my nose was running; I was coughing. Luckily, I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. I had plenty of water to drink, tissues for my nose and cough drops to chug. And thanks to my Mussar practice, I knew I had a choice. I could stew with impatience or I could feel grateful I was in the jam and not the wreck.

I turned on the radio. The insistent ring of my cell phone interrupted the soothing sounds of Bach. It was my cousin, calling to tell me her mastectomy was scheduled for the day after Christmas. After 19 years, her breast cancer had come back, and it was aggressive.

“I’ll call you next week. Take care.”

Was the timing of her call a coincidence or a cosmic message – a reminder about the difference between a figurative oatmeal lump and a literal breast lump? I breathed deeply and practiced patience.

I progressed another 15 feet. The traffic again came to a halt. I put the car in park and checked my email. There was a Caring Bridge update on a friend’s surgery; hopefully a cure for her months-long struggle with nausea and weight loss. I thought about all my other friends facing serious health challenges and took another deep breath. Was it a second cosmic message that my current situation was an oatmeal lump and gratitude and compassion rather than impatience were the soul-growing responses?

The car ahead of me moved four feet forward. I took the car out of park and crept up the steep hill. We came to another dead stop; it was five minutes before we began inching forward again.

Finally some progress! This time we advanced 15 feet. Coming around the curve, I could see the flashing red lights. Slowly, the line of traffic wended its way around the accident – orange traffic cones, firemen in full gear, damaged vehicles on both sides of the highway. I didn’t see any ambulances. I hoped there were no injuries.

The northbound cars started moving freely, but there were headlights on the southbound side for as far as I could see. How was I going to get across the traffic and into my neighborhood? I turned on my signal, and rather than advancing with the bumper-to-bumper throng, a car stopped, so I could turn left.

6:27 p.m. Home at last. As I settled down with the long-anticipated cup of chamomile, I reflected on my day, bookended with car crashes, a wake up call.  I sent healing thoughts to my cousin, my friends and the accident victims. And I sent a soundless thank you to the person who created the space for me to get home and experience the gratitude of this lucky, lumpy day.

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