16. It might be shit, but you can also call it manure

There was a tablespoon lying in the sink of the kitchen at the office where Benny was waiting for a job interview, although he couldn’t have known that as he sat there waiting to be called. He found out that it was there after he asked the person at the front desk if he had time to duck out to buy a bottle of water. It seemed to be a nicely casual workplace, as she said there was no need to go buy some if he didn’t mind water from their tap, and raised an arm in the direction of the open door to the office kitchen to one side, and said there were clean glasses in the cupboard above the sink. She said there probably wasn’t time to go out anyway as he’d be called in very soon.

That seemed a fine option, so he went in and grabbed a glass. Benny had a habit however of letting a tap run just a bit before taking any water, but when he turned on the tap it was a stronger flow than he was used to, and the tablespoon was, as we know, lying there in the middle of the sink.

The stream of water hit the bowl of the spoon full-on and sent a spray of water up and out of the sink. It splashed all over the front of his shirt, soaking most of it, and making him take that classic ‘I’ve just been wet’ stance — hips back, shoulders forward, arms up and out, as if this would somehow help un-wet him. It was a disaster, and had to happen just then, just there.

His initial thought was how to escape. He really didn’t want to ruin his chances just from a stupid incident that wet the whole front of his shirt. But he was trapped. There was no way out of there without going through the reception area again. It was an unforeseen thing that no-one would have expected, and he couldn’t really be prepared for — like he wasn’t going to carry a spare shirt, just in case…

There was nothing to be done. He simply had to deal with circumstances. So Benny stood there a while, shut his eyes, took a big breath, and accepted the facts. ‘Okay, so you’ve got a wet shirt… so what?’, and I whispered a reminder of the runaway shopping trolley, of our Uncle Ted, that seemingly negative things happening don’t always have to mean a disaster. ‘Take it easy, go with the flow, see what happens.’

Coming out of the kitchen, Benny heard his name called and he strode straight in — wet shirt and all. In the end, that unconventional dampness wasn’t so much of an issue. In fact his whole spoon-in-the-sink thing turned into an ice-breaker, and he walked out quite happy with the outcome. Yes, it was an unexpected incident that morning, and gave all the signs of putting him at a disadvantage. But he rode out the situation, took his chances, and was able to coerce the potential disaster into something better. He even got that job, in the end, which we found out later.

So that morning took Benny’s outlook from mildly hopeful, to exasperatingly negative, and then to a more positive acceptance — after he decided to take a viewpoint that rose above mere circumstances.

Walking home from the bus stop could be done via a strip of parkland, which made the walk slightly longer, or the more direct route along the main road and then into Benny’s street. His shirt was dry by now, and after his job interview that morning and its outcome, Benny took the greener way.

It was a long swathe of park in the wider urban space, which he just passed through most of the time, usually going somewhere else. But this time a shoelace came undone — maybe because they were shoes he usually didn’t wear much. So Benny sat down on a park bench to do it up. It was a quiet and mild sunny day, so he actually just sat there for a minute or two after the shoe was tied again, just looking out on the green space, a row of trees at its far edge. Then, looking up, he saw in a tree what seemed at first to be a stub of a branch that had broken off, but that he then saw was a bird sitting there. “An owl of some kind… yeah, a mopoke.” It was so well camouflaged that it was hard to make out, at first glance, but he could plainly see the owl that it was when he stared a while. The bird hardly moved, but quietly perched there, just sitting, looking out at the same scene Benny had just been resting his eyes on. He reached into his pocket for his phone to take a picture, but could tell it would be hard to see much of anything, and didn’t bother. Actually, why not just take the incident for what it was…. just enjoy that.

He did. And sat there for a minute or so longer before going on his way. It was a nice moment, and he found that when crossing the park in the future he would find himself glancing up at the same tree … but the mopoke wasn’t there again from then on.

Before the incidents of that morning, Benny would be more likely to, for example, panic about that wet shirt and scheme how to extract himself from having to deal with the embarrassment. And in the park it would have been more his style, or his until-then style, to put a foot on the bench, do up the shoelace and get along to wherever he was going.

What became crystal clear, eventually, was that the momentum of habit (or you could call it the generally accepted outlook) was not always, or maybe was not ever, the most helpful way of dealing with anything. Of course unthinkingly taking options more likely to be labelled ‘reliable’ probably has something to do with a tendency most people defer to — wanting to operate within familiar reference points. It was not just that this was a safe way of dealing, like a default setting we’re all wired for, but also a huge part of that tendency seems to spring from an innate wanting to belong to the human species.

So, sure. There were these programmed responses, or that toolkit of accepted versions. This was acceptable, most of the time, but even Benny could see that it obviously also paid to keep an open mind. Change and unsettling things are a given; they’re always going to happen, no matter how hard he tried to operate along ‘safe’ guidelines. For me, this witness to his trials, it was good to know that when the left field came at him, Benny at least could take a breath, draw on a little experience, and join these moments with an openness. Okay, so shit happens, but it doesn’t have to add to the chaos, and shit can be repurposed as manure, as fertiliser, to grow that sense of accommodating sanity.

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