Imagine This – A Story About Gratitude
You’re on your way to a very important meeting and you’re running late, but then again you’re always running late.
All of a sudden the car makes a feeble coughing sound, lurches a few times and then splutters to a halt.
You look at the gas gauge and realize you forgot to fill up last night. You pound the steering wheel in annoyance and frustration.
You were in a hurry to get home from work last night to prepare an urgent report for today’s meeting.
You promised you’d get gas first thing this morning and simply forgot in the usual morning chaos. Your mind was elsewhere.
Even though you’re still a ten-minute drive away from your appointment, you figure you can make it on foot in fifteen if you cut across some wasteland and get a move on.
You grab your cell phone, lock the car and set off at a jog. You hop over the wall by the side of the road barely noticing the ‘Warning – Keep Out’ sign and head for the freeway a mile or so away on the other side.
You curse the weather as you start to sweat in the hot summer sun. The last thing you need is to arrive flustered, red-faced and sweaty.
Goddamnit why does this always happen to you? You pick up the pace nevertheless because you simply cannot be late.
You’re half way across the deserted land when suddenly and without warning your feet give way.
You start to slide and as you look up you can see the sky disappearing from view like a train backing out of a tunnel at high speed.
For a split second you’re thrown into a state of confusion, panic and disorientation as you realize you’re falling.
Almost as soon as you process this information you hit the ground and come to an unceremonious halt. You’re shaken and stunned.
A quick bodily check reveals you’re ok, no bones broken or limbs twisted, just a scratch or two and a rapidly beating heart. You breathe an audible sigh of relief.
As you gaze round in the half-light it becomes apparent you’re in a disused mineshaft. Both left and right are sealed off and the only way out is the way you came in. You jump to your feet and dust yourself down in preparation for climbing out.
You’re cursing your terrible luck again and wondering how you you’re going to explain the way you look when you arrive.
You can just reach the earth by standing on tiptoes and stretching, but the outside world is another four feet above that. Scrambling and jumping to get out you just pull more and more dirt down on top of you with your flailing arms.
You start to panic as you realize it’s useless:
Your cell phone has no signal and you know that you’re some way off the beaten path. Why would anybody normally be walking across here?
The memory of the sign suddenly resurfaces and you a wave of nausea rises up through your stomach and into your throat.
How do you feel?
Angry? Claustrophobic? Terrified? Maybe even all three simultaneously?
After a few hours you’re hoarse from shouting and nightfall is drawing in so you make yourself as comfortable as you can.
Did you curse the warm weather? Now you’re grateful it’s not winter. Now you’re grateful you’re alive. But you’re still scared, really scared. Maybe you even start to pray?
Sleep does not come easy, if at all. The regrets start to come thick and fast as you face your own mortality for the first time in your life.
Why didn’t you spend more time with your loved ones and tell them how much you loved them? Why are you rushing for a meeting that you don’t even care about?
If you worked for yourself as you’ve kept promising this wouldn’t have happened. Why did you put off that trip to Europe when the family have always wanted to go? And why oh why are you working eighty hours a week in a job you despise?
But it wasn’t supposed to be like this. The script is all-wrong; you should have way more time to do that stuff. There’s always tomorrow..
Late on the second day you’re slipping in and out of sleep. Your life is streaming through your consciousness in all its Technicolor, quadraphonic glory. You’re struggling to know if you’re awake or asleep. Are you hallucinating through isolation and dehydration, or is this what dying is like?
Voices and pictures from your past are blurring into one another, but the laughing and shouting makes no sense. Then a surge of hope pulses through your veins as you realize the voices aren’t inside your head, they’re above you.
You summon all your energy to shout for help and hear them draw closer. Suddenly a couple of boys are peering down at you looking very perplexed.
What the hell are you doing down there?
A good question.
An hour later you’re being lifted to safety and met by news crews jostling for your attention, a hastily formed crowd and some paramedics. You’re checked over and given a saline drip to replace fluids, but you just want to go home to your family.
You don’t even welcome the glare of the TV lights. Funny that. Fame was always something you yearned for, yet now it seems trivial and unimportant.
There is an emotional reunion with your family when the Paramedics finally deliver you home still wearing the same disheveled, mud spattered clothing you left in.
You’re ravenously hungry, but you want a shower first. You turn on the faucet and feel the cold water run lukewarm and then hot under your outstretched hand before stepping into the tub.
The warmth of the water hits your face and it feels sublime. As you turn round you can feel the water cascading down your back and you breathe deeply absorbing the perfume of the soap in your hands. Have you always had this soap?
You’ve certainly never noticed the aroma before?
You watch the grime run down your body and feel your muscles start to loosen and relax as the water caresses your neck and back. A shower never felt so good, yet you must have had thousands over the years.
What’s the difference, what is allowing you to finally experience something that’s always been available to you?
As you take the time dry yourself slowly you can smell your dinner being prepared. You put on your favorite robe and head back to your waiting family. The tears flow and you make a silent promise to yourself that things will change.
Dinner is savored and you take the time to really taste and appreciate the food you have been served. Normally it’s a race to devour it as quickly as possible so you can get back to your laptop and deal with urgent e-mails. What’s urgent now?
The next hour is spent talking, laughing and crying some more, before exhaustion starts to overtake you and you head for bed.
A few hours after drifting off to sleep you wake with a start, your heart pounding, your brow sweating, your hands clammy. For a split second in the pitch black you think you’re back down the mineshaft.
Then the noise of your partner snoring softly beside you awakens you to the reality that you’re where you should be. A sound that used to irritate you is now a one you cherish.
Finally you understand.
One day it won’t be there for you, one day all of this will all be gone and you never know when that day will come.
As you stare into the darkness you make a promise to yourself. Next time you’ll be ready in the only way you can be, by living for the moment without remorse or regret. Never again will you allow urgent to take precedence over important or work to come before family.
You close your eyes and drift back to a peaceful sleep.