by Rudran Degnan
One Thursday evening at work, one of my good friends handed me a DVD and said, “Rudy, you gotta watch this. It’s about how our attitude affects our life.” I looked down and was unimpressed by the title–What the Bleep Do We Know. I forced a smile and stammered an insincere, “Thanks, Marian.” Well, it turns out I was right, at least in part. When the cartoon blobs representing the cells in our body came under attack by green slime, I winced that my friend could have found this movie inspiring. And yet, something about the movie touched me.
The next day, I got in my beaten up twenty-year-old Toyota Corolla and drove four hours south to sing at a benefit concert in New Jersey. When I pulled into the front gates, I remember actually blinking my eyes over and over again thinking I was seeing things. It was as if I had made a wrong turn and ended up on the set of a Batman movie. The house looked exactly like Bruce Wayne’s Manor.
The Indian family hosting the event were billionaires and had invited Tony-award winning Broadway stars, the whose-who of New Jersey high society, and me, a burnt out public high school teacher.
So there I am idling behind a Porsche and a Bentley waiting to give my car keys to the valet, a little minnow swimming in much deeper waters than he was used to.
I wish I could tell you how the music was that night but no matter how much I wrack my brain, I can’t remember a note. What I do remember is the valet who parked my car.
As the evening drew to a close, after I had said my goodbyes, I hastily jogged down the grandiose staircase to reclaim my keys. I gave the valet my ticket and waited and waited and waited. When he finally reappeared, he muttered,
“Uh, sir. I don’t got the key to your car.”
“I’m sorry, son. I must have misunderstood you…”
He looked at me sideways like a puppy who knew he was going to get wacked for chewing up his owner’s only good pair of shoes.
“I lost the key to your car, sir.”
My response was as instant as it was unconscious, “Son, I have to be at work tomorrow morning in Connecticut. Now you go down that hill and find my key. Got it? “
Okay, so the words themselves were pretty neutral, but my tone was brutal.
“O…O…o… Kay” he stammered shakily.
I went back in and ate a second and third helping of dinner and then went and explained my plight to my hosts. They were absolutely lovely people.
“It’s so hard to get good help these days, isn’t it?” the lady of the house asked me offhandedly.
I mean, how was I supposed to respond to that? What did I know about the quality of help these day? So I went to my default social response and stared blankly into space.
Her husband graciously chimed in, “This is so embarrassing. Why don’t you just borrow our second best car, the Jaguar, until we can get a new key made for your car.”
To this day, a part of me regrets that I didn’t accept his offer, but this little voice inside said, “Why don’t you check in with the valet just one more time? “ I have learned through a series of very close calls that it is best to listen to that little voice.
So, I looked around to see if I could find the valet. He was easy enough to spot. Way down the hill off to the west, a single flashlight beam bobbed and weaved frantically across the sprawling lawn. It was the valet looking for my car keys in a sea of grass. It took me a good fifteen minutes to make my way down to him.
“Hey!“ I barked, raising my hand.
He flinched. He thought I was going to hit him. And I have no way to explain it, but in that instant, by some grace, my attitude spontaneously flipped from anger to empathy. (I hate to admit it but I think the ideas in What the Bleep had something to do with it).
“Don’t worry, son, I wasn’t going to hit you.” I said softly. “You must be cold.”
“It’s freaking freezin’ out here,” he said in a thick Jersey-shore accent.
“Have you been looking for my key all this time?”
There was a long, calm silence…
“Are you going to school?” I asked. ( I couldn’t help myself. After all, I am an English teacher).
“Yea. I’m at Mount Claire College.”
“Here,” I said handing him twenty bucks. “Use this for your studies. “
“Why are you being so nice to me, mister?” He was as confused by my change of heart as I was.
“I have absolutely no idea,” I responded. “By the way, what’s your name?”
“Angel,” he replied, smiling broadly.
“Alright, Angel. Thanks for trying so hard to find my keys.”
I turned and started trudging up the steep driveway to the mansion above. It looked like I was going to get to drive that Jaguar after all.
As I climbed the hill, I had to stop often to catch my breath, and every time I did I saw a resolute flashlight beam bouncing around. Angel was continuing his search.
When I had nearly reached the top of the hill, I heard shouting. I had to listen carefully to make out the words. When my ears finally attuned, I couldn’t believe what I heard…
“I found it. I can’t believe it. I freakin’ found it!”
When he finally made it to the top, his faces was beaming like an eight- year-old boy who had just ridden his bike all by himself for the first time ever.
And suddenly it became clear, as long as I was holding onto negative thoughts, there was no way that Angel could have found that key. However, the very second I chose a good attitude, new possibilities opened up for both of us. Far too often, I forget that underneath it all we are not made of skin, and flesh and bone, but of love, and hope, and boundless potential.
I learned something that night. Somehow at that concert, this worn out English teacher was given his curriculum. It was time for me to walk the way of the heart.
These days, I work as a gopher in a restaurant. All the proceeds go to help those in need, and in return I’m given a bed and food.
So each day, seven days a week, I fetch the potatoes, pumpkins, and sacks of flour (the list goes on and on). And many times during the day, negative thoughts arise. When they do, I do my best to flip them. I often fail. But when I feel anger arise and I choose to just watch it, the anger fades and such a peace sweeps over me, such a love.
Perhaps this is how we find our way home, by choosing a good attitude from moment to moment no matter what. If we can do this one little thing with all our hearts, perhaps one day all of our higher angels will come bounding up the endless hill. On that day, there will be no more need for flashlights. For on that day, all darkness will vanish in the light of our pure being. And in one voice, the angels within us will sing in voices softer than the lull after a crack of thunder, “We’ve found it. We’ve found it! We’ve found the key.” And funny to say, it was always right there, just once conscious step away, right there in the field we walk every day.
Rudran Degnan is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He taught high school English in the Bronx, NY and then on the campus of the University of Connecticut. He is currently living in an ashram in Southern India trying to free his mind and get out of the matrix.
Written for Walking With Intention. Leave a comment and let Rudran know what you thought about his take on the subject.
Featured image via http://www.hdwallpaernice.com