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The Significance of Insignificance

“Holy shit! Finally!!!” I exclaimed with appreciative delight. You would have thought I just crossed the finish line of a marathon.

My brother Scott wore an incredulous look on his face. The wrinkles around his eyes and the crooked smile said, “I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of it.”

Two brothers sharing a beer.
Bro Time is always a good time.

All he saw were the seven seconds it took me to loosen the bolt on my engine with the 19mm wrench he brought me. My faulty engine temperature sensor was finally free!

What he didn’t get to see was the journey it took to get to that moment.

A day prior, my dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree. while driving on the freeway. Check Engine. Cruise Control Disengaged. The engine temp light was alternating between red and blue faster than the clicks of my turn signal. Eventually, steam billowed from beneath my car hood while on my way to pickup our 9-year old from school. He didn’t see the panicked call to my wife to pull her out of an important meeting with her boss.

He didn’t see the stress of watching my detached radiator hose spilling fluid over my engine like a well-endowed man putting out a campfire with his god-given gift. He didn’t watch me crawl my car to Auto Zone, get the diagnostics and the bad news that they didn’t have the part; nor did he watch me limp my car home, stopping periodically to let the engine cool, or accept new radiator fluid.

That was all before the repair process even began. There was a Men’s Circle meeting to help lead, car parts to find, kids to shuttle, schedules to adjust before I even could pop the hood to begin fixing what turned out to be a broken temperate sensor.

Luckily for me, the sensor was so visible, I could almost touch it with my nose if I leaned under the hood enough. The bad news was there were enough components around it, that it was just unaccessible enough that I couldn’t get torque on the well-sealed bolt without finding something with a long body and a small head. I tried every tool in my tool box: shallow socket wrench, narrow and fat pliers, even an adjustable crescent wrench let me know how big the bolt was that held the sensor in place, but I couldn’t get a proper grip and busted my knuckles several times trying to loosen it.

A car engine and tools
There is significant value in the right tool for the job.

In all my resourcefulness, I called friends within a five mile radius. I knocked on doors of houses that still had cars in driveways at 9:30 AM. I even imposed on a roadside work crew and asked the foremen with the mounted tool boxes if they had a combination wrench set with a 19mm head. Nobody had the tool I needed. Kristy, stuck in meetings and having a doctors appointment she couldn’t miss, felt helpless, yet she’d already come back home to give her son a ride to school when I couldn’t get the car fixed in time. 

I was just about to order an Uber to head to a hardware store after Auto Zone told me they couldn’t loan me that kind of tool. As a last-ditch effort, I decided to just check in with my brother. 

Luckily I caught him before he left home, so he showered, and headed over. In $1.17 in gas and seven seconds of mild effort, the bolt was free and my minor crisis was over. From his perspective, it must have looked so anticlimactic. I suppose I could have done it without him, but it would have taken me at least 2 more hours and at least $50. I would have missed an important work lunch among the headache of picking kids up and figuring out how to salvage the day at work.

As I drove to work with error free dashboard and a humming engine, the gravity of the situation began to dawn on me. Immense gratitude for my wife’s flexibility came time mind. Deep appreciation my car and the freedom and ability that it provides was also at the surface. What lingered is my brother. First off, the fact that he’d take 30 minutes out of his way and detour to my house just to bring me a tool meant a lot. It reminds me of why community is so important. No matter how capable we are, none of us get through life alone. We are integrated so profoundly and subtly, it’s sometimes easy to take for granted.

The moment stuck with my like a rock in my shoe, and wouldn’t really stop nagging me until I took it off and did a little inspecting.

Scott probably knew he was being helpful by driving to my house and bringing me a wrench, that alone was worth it. Seven seconds of usefulness, however, probably didn’t seem all that impactful. I guess this is true if I were to measure the situation in seconds. That kind of calculating fails to take into account all the other things that I had tried and failed with. It doesn’t take into account the weight of helplessness, the stress and inconvenience that failure was bringing. I guess what I’m trying to say is the value wasn’t in the seconds. The value is in what it gave me. It was the kink, the crux, and the dam in my flow of life. Freeing the block put everything back in order, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the tool or the effort he made to bring it to me.

How applicable this is to every day life. What might seem small to me might be huge to someone else. it reminds me of the saying I’m paraphrasing: “It takes nothing away from a candle to lend its flame to the wick of another candle in lighting it.”  What small things do I do throughout the day that can lend a hand to another person? A smile. Letting them merge into traffic. A friendly acknowledgement that we are both wearing Hey Dude shoes. 

I remember the quote by the Dalai Lama:

"If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito."

It reminds me of finding pennies. It might seem like such an inconsequential amount of money. Maybe that’s why they are so readily found in places I walk. Although they might seem worthless to some making them easier to discard, they have significance to me beyond intrinsic value or purchasing power. They are a reminder of my wife, they area  reminder of my journey, they are my reminder to stop and smell the roses. 

It’s a reminder that there is nothing in this world that is actually insignificant to the universe, even if it’s insignificant to the people interacting with it.

Community Caveat

There is a distinct lesson to this situation that relates back to community here for me. No matter how well prepared we are to face the challenges of the world, none of us do this alone. Community is there because the world is so diverse and no one human has the time to become the masters of everything. Community holds things up, and keeps things together where the limitations of being a human falls short. The perfect example of this is the tool that I didn't have, and asking others around me for support. It reminds me to make myself available to others for the tool I might have that might help the community and my brother, both the literal and figurative ones.

The Silver Lining

I've been guilty of getting pissed off at the universe for giving me a challenge. The common example is that I seem to find the slowest driver when I'm late for work. Often my expression is to blame and say, "You're making me even later!" First off, how do I know that person who is driving slow isn't helping me avoid what would have been an accident five minutes up the road that I would have met if I'd driven just a little faster?

The question I've gotten used to asking is, "What is this doing FOR me?"

This situation with my car was a perfect example. I gained a better understanding of the mechanics of my car. I felt deeper appreciation for all my vehicle helps me accomplish. I felt appreciation for my ability to not be perfect and have my wife help me out in a pinch. I felt gratitude even for the money that I earned to purchase that car in the first place.

The deepest thing that came is seeing how my family is there for me. We have never been rich by American money standards, and our bonds could even be questioned when considering how infrequently we talk on the phone. Yet when one of us needs help, we rally. Hard. It was fun to see my brother's expertise come into play and him knowing that he was helping the "big brother" out with something he knew more about. It gave us a chance to bond for a moment and knock any rust that might be standing in our relationship. This is one of those reciprocal moments where both people win and get more than either put in. There's no situation that feels more like winning on this planet than a situation where both prosper and benefit.

I might have had to deal with a car that wasn't working optimally in the moment, and the doors it opened are vast. I wonder how many times I've missed that lesson in my life.

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Feb 08
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Feb 08
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

There is little doubt you will come across something one of your kids do, write, POST (lol) that will make you feel the way I feel reading this. Love, mom (in a puddle at work..gee thanks)

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