This is a story I’ve been meaning to tell for months now, and it seems appropriate to share it with you since we’ve only just started a new year.
Back during the summer of 2015, I was taking my 3 kids on a quick get-a-way to the Alabama coast for some sand and surf. We’d been looking forward to a big vacation with the family (grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncle), but those plans fell through and so we set out, just us 4 ladies.
We had made it about halfway to our destination when my van began to overheat. I stopped in at a gas station to let it cool and refill the radiator. My kids didn’t mind, because there was a Subway there and they were hungry. We were wearing swimsuits under our clothes, ready to hit the beach and have fun as soon as possible! It was worrisome to be having trouble with my van, but it’s an old van and so isn’t a stranger to trouble.
Within minutes of stopping, a man had approached me to ask what the problem was. He was on his way to Florida with his wife and little girl, and said he couldn’t in good conscience just walk away from a woman and kids who needed help, so he began to look for the source of the problem.
This is where it gets really impressive…
That man stayed with me for an hour, getting his hands dirty and busting his knuckles while he checked and rechecked everything under the hood and in the fuse panel so that I wouldn’t be stranded later on with my 3 girls. And he did so despite the fact that he and his family were also ready to begin their vacation, and despite the fact that his friends were meeting him at their destination. He helped me despite the fact that rain was moving in, and he had gear packed in the bed of his truck, and was towing a fishing boat. Even his little girl ran over to help, because she very obviously had a good example in her dad.
That man’s name is Raymond, from New Orleans.
Raymond discovered that my radiator, fans, and fuses were all good, but the switch that turns on the fans was bad. He then wired the fans to the battery so that I would be able to make it whether I could replace the part soon or not (I drove directly to a local garage, and it was not something they could do since my van is old; I’m still driving with Raymond’s very practical and easily adapted wiring under the hood).
We weren’t quite making the time we thought we would when we set out, but then neither was Raymond. He left us with smiles, and my girls were still happy to be able to have a little vacation before school. I hope Ray caught all the big ones on his vacation! That man deserved some good times and good stories.
But then we actually made it to the beach…
We’d encountered a little rain, and got a little worried in traffic that we might overheat again and ended up finishing the trip with no A/C and the windows rolled down, but we made it to the white sands of the Alabama coast and we still had some daylight in which to enjoy a swim and maybe to play in the sand before heading to our hotel. It wasn’t the hours we’d planned on, but it was good. It was enough. We were happy.
So there we were, behind The Hangout, looking for a place to park, and the SUV ahead of us stops. Okay… no problem. The kids are fine, the gauge looks good, they’re probably just waiting for someone to back out, right? We’re good. We’ve encountered worse already today, so this is minor. We’re joking about a parking spot to the left of me that’s covered in sand and closed in a bit by the trucks on either side. They must not know where the lines are…the kids giggle…
The guy ahead of me backs up.
Did the car they’re waiting on need more room? Am I supposed to back up, too? But there’s another truck rounding the building and approaching behind me… surely the space isn’t that important. I mean, do we need to direct traffic to reverse in a one way only lane?
Then the guy ahead of me backs up and angles his SUV toward the sand-covered space no one saw until they’d passed it, which is to my left. And the guy behind me is now a part of this craziness, because I can’t back up even if I wanted to. That’s when the guy ahead of me gets out of his vehicle so that he can yell at me for not letting him have this parking spot. Right there, in front of my kids, his wife and kid, all the kids playing in the sand by The Hangout, everyone buying ice cream at the little stand there, and everyone eating on the deck. He yells at me, asks me what the hell I’m doing that I won’t back up, and I tell him I can’t because there’s another car behind me. He then yells that it wasn’t there to begin with and ends with “I HOPE YOU SLEEP WELL TONIGHT!” to which I calmly replied, “I will,” and then he gets in his vehicle, slams his door, and drives away.
And my 13 year old, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, said, “He’s the human grumpy cat!”
And we all lost it. We completely cracked up. Everyone outside The Hangout heard us laughing our butts off, because honestly…. that man was a comedy of the absurd. Especially after having experienced the likes of Raymond!
I hope you sleep well tonight?? Over a PARKING SPOT?? Dude, I didn’t punch your granny. I had no idea the spot meant so much to you.
I hope he makes it without needing counseling. I mean, the loss of a parking spot cuts deep. Those wounds just don’t heal…
I laughed so hard I cried, and then drove forward all of fifteen yards and parked right by the beach boardwalk, in front of the showers, by the pavilion on the beach. It was not the last spot, either. There were plenty. And they all cost the same amount per day.
So my girls and I enjoyed our day at the beach, undeterred, and as we jumped into the waves, I began to sing a parody of a song from The Little Mermaid…“I wanna be…where the people aren’t…” and I dedicated it to Human Grumpy Cat, which my ten year old said she thought looked like Anger from Inside Out, because he was irate and was wearing a red shirt and had a crew cut. She had a point… so we tried to spot ‘Anger’ on the beach, and wondered whether his wife was Disgust or Fear (we couldn’t imagine anyone in that family being Joy). Our fun, rather than being diminished by such a small man, had actually increased.
So thanks, I guess? We had many laughs thanks to you, Indignant Grumpy Stranger.
And many thanks to Raymond from New Orleans, who made it possible for us to get to our destination and back home, and make many great memories.
So now that you have the backstory, time for the lesson…
Everyone in this tale had a choice to make about what they chose to focus on.
- I could have focused on the troubles with my van and become dejected.
- Raymond could have focused on his vacation and left me to sort things out on my own.
- Indignant Stranger could have focused ahead of him at what was available rather than behind him at what he’d missed.
- My kids could have focused on the setbacks and the rudeness and allowed it to ruin their fun.
Which brings me to the point of this post…
What we focus on determines where we go and the attitude which carries us there.
If you are so caught up in looking back at what you’ve missed, what’s gone wrong, or where you messed up, you will be incapable of seeing the opportunities and the adventure before you. If you are so caught up in looking ahead at the place you want to be, or the challenges you have to face, or stress about the unknown, you will be incapable of living in the moment and enjoying it fully. You’ll be incapable of detouring to help someone in need. You’ll miss the chance to live fully right here, right now, right where you’re at in life at this moment.
We can be aware of what’s behind, and we can prepare as well as possible for what’s ahead, but we will drain all the joy from this moment if we fail to focus on what’s right in front of us and the people we’re surrounded by.
You can’t be fully alive in the moment if you’re obsessed with what’s behind you or what’s ahead of you.
So this year, whatever your goal is, whatever your plan is, whatever course you have charted for your life – just remember: sometimes what’s ahead is better than what’s behind, so don’t fret over missed opportunities, and don’t be so caught up in where you’re headed that you fail to be blessed and be a blessing where you are right now.
Safe travels on the road before you!