11. Forget the mistake. Remember the lesson

An unfortunate feature of the open-air car park at Benny’s local shopping centre was that it had a gradient in one area. Not exactly a hill, or the sort of slope that made it harder to walk up, but enough to mean that pushing a shopping trolley was made a little more challenging — not only did he have to contend with erratic directional pulls from at times dodgy wheels, but may also have to make allowances for the added difficulty, depending on where he had to leave the car, of parking bays that ran side-on to the gradient. Directing a heavy full trolley between two rows of parked cars that ran side-on to the natural pull of gravity was especially difficult.

In this particular area of the shopping centre car park, it was not unheard of for a trolley to occasionally roll away if left unattended. Any such escape was usually fairly leisurely, as the slope was gentle, but it could be interesting from a directional point of view due to the rough mechanics of those wheels. There was more chance of a runaway cart if the last user didn’t bother to return the thing to one of those trolley bays, but had just abandoned it somewhere. And this was exactly what happened one day when Benny was sitting in his car, after he returned the trolley he’d been using and having just sat in the driver seat. Before he had even reached back for the seatbelt, a clang and a bump to one the back panels of his car had him flinging open the car door and jumping out, ready to confront whoever had dinged into his car.

But there was no-one to shout out to, and nobody to be annoyed with. Just a loose shopping trolley, now resting against the car, right next to a small but visible mark. Benny looked around, but there wasn’t even anyone close enough to hear his “What…?!” or be able to share a this-really-sucks shake of the head. There was no-one to blame, and not a thing to be done about it, and his sudden flash of being riled kind of petered out into nothing, because there was no-one to direct it at.

His mood was lightened slightly by another trolley slowly trundling past, on its way to bump into a small tree at the end of the row. So it wasn’t a personal attack. It was just one of those mishaps that happens — a shopping trolley made a break for it, and he just happened to be parked in the wrong place.

And seeing that next runaway trolley made Benny realise another thing. He obviously wouldn’t have been the first person to have their car bumped into in this way. Someone else must have had that same angry flash. And who knows, maybe they could have even falsely blamed another shopper who was nearby for letting their trolley get loose. It could happen. And it could so obviously turn into one of those misdirected reactions he’d seen before, an anger or aggression that in this case, with no-one to blame, would be simply pointless, but that would have already needlessly become an unsettling twist in an otherwise uncomplicated calm day.

But the noteworthy outcome, Benny realised, was his acceptance. Yes, a crap thing happened and his car now had a new mark on it, and he would have been very happy if it didn’t. But then again, if the trolley had been safely stacked in its bay and the calm day sailed on uninterrupted, Benny would not have had this moment of knowing that he could actually handle adverse occurrences quite well. He felt a growing sense of both practicality and resourcefulness, but knew that in this instance this positive approach was not manifest in what would generally be seen as a usual way (and I had not whispered a word, honest).

Benny sat in the driver seat and got to thinking about another instance of damaged property, a favourite uncle he had long ago, and a pragmatic approach to a problem that was still fixed in his memory. His dad’s much older brother, who had since passed away, had always seemed to like his nephew, and when Benny was a kid he let him ‘help’ do things all the time. “Uncle Ted was a great guy. He knew what to do when it came to the practical stuff, like building things or fixing plumbing. So this one time we had a delivery of something or other, I actually can’t remember what it was, but what I do remember is that the back edge of the truck clipped our house and took a chunk of wood out of the weatherboards, or the corner bit of the house anyway. It wasn’t a huge piece, but it wasn’t tiny either, and I guess my parents thought it couldn’t be ignored.

“So Uncle Ted was called on to come over and fill in where the truck ‘took a bite out of the house’ (that’s what he said it looked like), and I was hanging around like I always did. Uncle Ted had some two-part filler gunk that would ‘do the trick’, and he let me help. ‘Mix this together for me Benny, like it says on the back of the tin,’ he said, and left me to it while he got the ladder and tidied up some bits and pieces.

“I guess I would have been about 12 or something like that, and really glad to be helping, and I probably wasn’t listening to the last bit of what Uncle Ted just said. I was probably rushing it too and not really thinking. Anyway I just ended up putting a scoop of the gunk into a container and squeezed some of the hardener into it and stirred — but then stirred in more because I wanted it to be a darker pink. Uncle Ted came back a few minutes later, saw what was happening, and quickly put the ladder against the house, climbed up and tried to smooth some of the mixture into the hole, but by then the gunk had turned into something like dried out peanut butter. He tried to force a lump of it into the damaged hole but it wouldn’t stay there, and pretty soon it had hardened so much that the stirrer was stuck upright in the middle of what was now like a round piece of plaster cast.

“I had pretty much guessed that I had made a mess of it somehow, and was getting concerned about what sort of trouble I’d be in — from my parents, not from Uncle Ted. He was grinning, holding the handle of the stirrer with the hard lump of filler hanging from it, swinging it around. ‘You didn’t read the back of the can, did you Benny!’ And then I must have looked a bit worried. ‘Look, don’t worry about it. I’m always buying this stuff. I’ll just come back with more next time. The hole in the wall’s not going anywhere. Hey I’ll even get you to mix it again for me, but this time….’ and he shook a finger at me, but it was in a joking way.

“So the corner of the house wasn’t fixed that day, and stayed damaged for a few more days just to remind me. Later on, before Uncle Ted left, I said I was sorry I’d messed up mixing his filler. But he just said: ‘Listen, forget the mistake, but don’t forget what it taught you.’

“So that was my lesson from that time way back then, which I still remember and I was reminded of it again today. Yeah some bad things can happen, but it doesn’t always have to mean a disaster.”

Benny suspected that he knew this all along, and that in the back of his mind, right here, he would have known that the secret to being able to ride over any setbacks that are thrown our way has more to do with correcting an attitude than constructing some sort of justification. This was something he would try to remind himself about. And so would I.

< Chapter 10 Chapter 12 >

Chapter index and link to slogans