I could taste the salt as I bit through the line to free my reel from the rats-nest of knots surrounding it. It has been five months since I tossed the bit of fishing gear into my car in late June after a trip to the North Carolina coast. My whole time spent in the south lasted just five months too; looking back it feels like a whole life was lived in such a short time and that another one has passed by since leaving.
Yet, I’m just now cleaning out my car again.
As I placed the reel on the shelf of my Montana garage and tossed the marine flavored fish-floss in the garbage, I realized how wonderfully different the months of my life have been this year. After all, there I was tasting saltwater from the Atlantic while standing in the middle of the rocky mountains. The day after my parents left Missoula in an empty pickup-truck on a 1500 mile journey back to the Midwest, I joined some friends in the Bitterroot mountains (here, affectionately referred to as “The Root”… it rhymes with “foot”) and humped some cans of Hamm’s a couple-thousand feet up a mountain-side to spend a few days yanking cuthroat’s out of an alpine lake and shooting a pistol at the aluminum corpses of beers passed on. After returning to civilization three days later, on the one-week anniversary of my arrival, I went to an event at the local art museum. Walking in a stranger I left with a position on the event planning committee and a free lunch.
As my early weeks here continued to pass by I scored a position with a local environmental education non-profit, shared a remote lake in the Mission Mountains with two good friends, hung out with Austin Lucas for a few moments at his basement show and hiked to the top of Lolo peak for lunch, a nap and a superb view of my new home. Matt and I ran the Blackfoot river (made famous by “shooting the chutes” in a River Runs Through It) three times in two weeks, and I also spent plenty of days learning to hold my own surfing a world class freestyle kayaking wave on the Clark Fork river. Mind you all of this took place over the span of barely four weeks between the start of my classes at the University of Montana and arriving to the northcountry after a knock-down-drag out summer in the south full of non-stop hiking, rafting and kayaking.
Yet more-so than the places I’ve been or the ridiculously awesome jobs I’ve landed, the uniqueness of each passing month is symptomatic of a change in the tenor of my understanding of people.
Because dammit, people really are pretty awesome most of the time.
I’m increasingly finding it unfathomable that some find it so hard to meet quality, thoughtful and insightful individuals. In my experience, the world really seems to be lousy with them; so long as you’re open to finding them just about anywhere. Despite my excitement to get to Montana after nearly a decade of the idea floating around in my mind, it was really a bit harder to leave Georgia than I’d anticipated. Sure I’d expected to feel reluctance about saying goodbye to my great friend Carson with whom I’d lived and worked throughout the summer; but then just as now, I found myself missing some really great people I’d come to know, respect and appreciate over my short time there. Inexplicably, I even find myself missing some altogether unsettling and just plain weird folks as well (If you’ve got an “RW” on your helmet, I’m talking to you.)
And even in my short time as a Missoulian, I’ve been bowled over almost weekly by the quality of people I’ve come to know here. Of course, go figure that I’d meet a great group of people all of whom are shipping off to the Peace Corps in six months; however I can already feel that I’ll be keeping in touch with these folks for years to come.
But you know, I’ve never really had a shortage of awesome people in my life. I’ve tried never to take this for granted, but sometimes it’s still pretty unbelievable even to me.
This summer, while Carson was out of town,p robably in the Carribean, or Florida Keys or something, I decided to try and replace the rear brake rotors and pads on my Passat. Without going into too much detail I very quickly produced a puddle of brake fluid and a jammed wheel cylinder piston. With unreliable internet access and my phone’s connectivity waning, I decided that since I was unable to research how to remedy the situation on my own, I’d just borrow Carson’s jeep and head to Autozone for a new wheel cylinder; or maybe just a crowbar with which to beat myself senseless. Upon arriving to the neighborhood Autozone with glistening wheel cylinder in hand I immediately set to work trying to locate a replacement one with the help of the marginally helpful guy behind the counter. Just a few feet away at another terminal was an older black gentleman rattling off a list of makes, models and part numbers to another attendant who frantically keyed them into the computer.
After a few moments, my guy behind the desk delivered the sobering news that either I could order a new one through this store and have it in 3-5 business days for just $130, or I could drive to the other side of Atlanta to pick one up myself at the same price. My frustration must have been palpable; only a beat of silence passed before the gentleman next to me hollered over, “What are you need’n brotha?” He asks in a perfectly pleasant and soft southern drawl.
After explaining the situation and showing him the problem in my hands, the man gestures to my attendant behind the counter and points to the image of a tool kit illustrated on a table-top mat next to the computer. “Let Anthony take a look at this,” says the man as he uses a rag from his pocket to take the fluid covered part from me. The attendant dug around behind the counter for a few moments before opening and presenting a plastic case on the counter-top the way a waiter might present a box of fine cigars in a hotel lobby. As Anthony went to work repairing and resetting the cylinder’s piston, he began to tell me of his life in Florida before being displaced by hurricane Andrew, and how he chose Atlanta to start his new life because of a girl there he once knew. He told me about living in Stone Mountain, his wife, her kids, and how he demanded the same respect that he gave from each of them. I could tell by the way he looked at me while he talked more than at his own hands that I wouldn’t need to buy a new part; I could tell that I was being taken care of.
I was thanking him well before he was finished repairing my foolishly bumbled wheel cylinder, and long before he walked me through how I’d re-install it safely and precisely once I got back home with it. But as I expressed my appreciation, he stopped me in mid-thank you. “There is a lot of wickedness in the world son.” He said as he paused the work in his hands to look me directly in the eye. “But there is a lot of good in the world too,” he continued, “and we of good heart have a way of finding each other.”
Without skipping a beat he put the finishing touches on resetting the cylinder’s piston and plopped the hunk of metal in my hands without even a pause to make sure I’d catch it.
We all have doubts from time to time about our paths through life, and whether or not the choices that we make are as selfless as we’d like to believe. Despite the joy that I’ve experienced over the past year, I often wonder whether the cost of time lost with friends and family is worth it. I’d like to think that I may someday know if what I’ve gained to share with those close to me can ever offset the time I’ve missed with them to acquire that wisdom; but the truth is that I probably never will. But, if Anthony’s words continue to ring as true to me as they did on that hot day in Georgia, then perhaps I can find some comfort in knowing the profound goodness in the hearts of those who have always been close to me and have faith that maybe my choices and actions are a product of the goodness in their hearts if less so my own.