Life Sentences: It’s All Relative

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Our columnist catches herself wallowing in self-pity, then finds a better perspective. 

From my back patio door, I can look out on the trees as the season changes. The lilac tree has sprouted leaves of fresh green. The sunlight sparkles off the white pine boughs, the jonquils and hyacinths are blooming amid the ground-covering ivy. The elm tree that spreads high above the yard has retained its mid-winter brown limbs. It has no spring color or swelling leaf buds yet, unless you count a stripling from the nearby pine that was shot there as if by Cupid’s bow. It’s just hanging there where last night’s gale-force winds flung it.

We had a beautiful sunny-but-cold day recently, and I thought I’d go for a drive before getting home for Greg’s bus. I was winding through the Kohl’s Byzantine parking lot in Mays Landing, trying to find the exit, when my car started shivering and grumbling. The palsy got worse, so I pulled into the next shopping center in front of a Chipotle restaurant.

Read: Life Sentences: Enough Already!

I checked the tires, and sure enough, the front passenger one was flatter than a corn tortilla.

This was not my first adventure being dumped by the side of the road. I called roadside assistance right away, and the repair guy took my information and said he would call me when he had arranged a tow-truck.

“Wait, What?”

Picturing my husband’s reaction watching my car being towed up to the house sent me into a brief spasm of hysteria.

“No! No tow! It’s just a flat tire and I have one of those weenie doughnut tires. All I need is a change…” 

“Yes Ma’am,” The phone guy deadpanned, “My guys are coming from an accident scene in your area and they’ll be towing a vehicle.” 

Oh. Panic averted. The guys pulled up, the tire was changed, and I went back home and dived for the cover of quilts.

At the tire store the next day, the manager was swamped with customers. He told me that it was first come, first served. There was no telling how long it would take, but if I just took a seat, he’d call me up soon.

Soon as in minutes, or hours, I wondered.   

I grabbed a two-year-old Reader’s Digest, and started reading the true story of Yeongmi Park, a young girl who escaped from North Korea with her mother. It was a graphic account of crushing oppression inside the borders of her country and escaping, only to live through being sold as “wives and slaves” by Chinese border patrollers who preyed on helpless women and children trying to defect.

Leave it to me to wallow in self-pity over a split tire and then pick up a real life-and-death chronicle so I can feel small and ashamed of my churlishness. 

The exodus continued. With the help of some underground Protestant missionaries, they escaped China, through the Gobi desert to Mongolia, and eventually, South Korea.

“There was a real possibility we could be arrested, and my mother and I decided we would not be taken. She had collected a cache of sleeping pills, and I hid a razor blade in my jacket so that I could slit my throat before they could send us back.”

Eventually, they made it to freedom and settled in New York where young Yeonmi wrote a book about her life and liberation, In Order to Live.

I would not be able to share this story with you if I had not been mesmerized by it. I was halfway through it when my tire was finished and I begged the store manager to let me take the magazine home. 

To finish on a lighter note, I leave you with some quotes you might enjoy.

From comedian Jay Leno:

“A Canadian psychologist is selling a video that teaches you how to test your dog’s IQ. Here’s how it works: If you spend $12.99 for the video, your dog is smarter than you.” 

From writer Anne LaMott who used this story to explain how writers overthink their characters, when they should just let them romp into trouble:

“My Al-Anon friend told me about the frazzled, defeated wife of an alcoholic man who kept passing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night. The wife kept dragging him in before dawn, so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him. Until finally an old black woman from the South came up to her one day after a meeting and said, “Honey? Leave him lay where Jesus flang him.”

Recommended: Life Sentences: The Lion and the Lamb

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