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Second Look

Yesterday evening I was picking my way across my cement patio in the deep dusk. It’s a short trip from the garbage can to my back door (small patio, more of a topless carport than anything else), but tonight it held a surprise. A flash—or more accurately a blob—of something out of place caught my eye… and there, neatly positioned between push-broom, car and wall, was a large, astonishingly yellow cube. On top of it lay a folded pink-and-purple bag of some sort, and on top of that, a large medical-looking funnel scoop.

I went a little closer. Yes, just as I suspected: a full, apparently unopened 40-pound bucket of kitty litter, Tidy Cats variety. That was all I could see in the almost-dark.

I tentatively pulled on the handle. Nothing budged by so much as a millimeter.

It occurred to me as I scurried inside that I now had a problem.

I knew where this kind, immovable gift had come from. Using my justly famed deductive powers, I had already gone through the relevant clues:

1) I’m the only cat-owner in the neighborhood.

2) All my neighbors know this.

3) Joe and Emily, the delightful young couple immediately west of me, are moving out on Thursday and Emily’s spent all week cleaning.

4) Joe is my only near neighbor with the physical strength to lift this albatr—er, kind donation.

You will note there are a few missing pieces here. How and why had my dog-owning neighbors acquired all that kitty litter? And not only acquired but stored it, despite their desperate lack of free space? Then, too, Joe at least has had numerous vivid demonstrations of my inability to lift, push or drag anything over 20 pounds. (Joe: “Hi! Need some help with that? Where do you want me to put it?” Pat: “Whuh (gasp)… huh (wheeze)… over... there…”)

And what was I going to do about this unexpected and unyielding inheritance? Try to deal with it myself? But even if I found someone to move it for me, say, down the outside stairs to the basement, what good would it do me down there? I imagined its stolid, immovable yellow self staring me down, daring me to dispose of it, from here through eternity… Ask them to take it back? But I certainly didn’t want to insult my lovely soon-to-be-former neighbors by refusing their final gift to me and demanding they cart it back and get rid of it some other way. What, oh what to do?

I firmly dismissed all these ruminations for the night. “I’ll deal with it tomorrow,” I told myself sternly. My dreams, though, paid no attention. They were haunted by mysterious yellow blobs and patches that would show up for a few moments in the middle of some complicated REM-generated plot like an unwelcome commercial break…

This morning, still in the dark both literally and figuratively, I made my predawn way to the gym. Since my gym buddies are among the select group of folks who are verbal before 7 a.m., I posed the problem to them.

“I think you’ll just have to tell them,” said Rose from the Nordic track. “My husband would help move it, but as you know his injured hand’s not fully recovered yet.”

“You could advertise online,” suggested stationary-bike rider Joel, who’s recovering from shoulder surgery. “I’d be glad to help, but not for a few months yet.”

“Could you get the lid up and scoop it out bit by bit into… uh… something and carry it… uh… somewhere? ” was John’s contribution from the treadmill.

“Too close to the wall to get that strip of plastic off so I can open it, I think,” was all I said.

I did consider the online approach, though, rehearsing my Nextdoor appeal as I drove home, now in broad daylight. I parked the car, walked past the offending bucket—and took a second look. In daylight, this time.

No, the bucket was not sealed. And what I had taken for a particularly wild plastic shopping bag piled on top of it was… an empty bag that had contained, it announced, fifty pounds of animal-safe ice-melt crystals. "Hmmmm..." said the world-famous detective in me.

I lifted up the hinged top. Et voila, I had inherited a large, bright yellow kitty-litter bucket filled to the brim with… safe-to-use (and very expensive) ice-melt crystals. It had been put right where I could most easily dip into it with that huge scoop when the patio inevitably iced over, yet it did not block my path to the car. I could leave it there till doomsday or later, if I chose: a lovely, thoughtful gift that fitted my lovely, thoughtful neighbors to a T. I’d be able to thank them with true gratitude.

Lesson received: Before taking a running leap into the nearest morass of conclusions, take a second look. In daylight.

I wish I could say it’s the first time I’ve had this particular option brought to my attention. Not so, of course. This has just been one of the more gentle presentations…

Several years ago now, I developed for a client a tool we called the Magician’s Action Checklist. At the time, we’d been discussing the increased responsibility that comes with heightened awareness and hence more powerful influence in our world. Our actions, we now know, needn’t just be thrown into the world at random to stir up an equally random response. What we do aligns us with what we are most ready to experience, attracting synchronicities and setting miracles in motion. We are indeed magicians. Knowing our power now, how can we take considered, productive action when it really counts?

The Magician’s Checklist—when I’ve remembered to use it—has been very useful in softening my unfortunate tendency to run headlong into unconsidered action or reaction, and then suffer through the inevitable consequences. Today, though, I've added something to that list, right at the top. Here's its new first item:

Am I seeing my present circumstance clearly? Have I looked at it carefully, in the bright daylight of unbiased receptivity? Have I gathered all necessary facts? Have I checked to see if my own beliefs, assumptions, fears, desires or prejudices are pushing me into premature or unwise action?

I’ve set forth the revised Checklist in the companion blog to this one, in case you’d like to add it to your own toolkit. May it serve you as well as it serves me!

Meanwhile, I am most thankful to Joe and Emily for my new and very close neighbor, the large yellow presence—or is it Presence?—just outside my back door, reminding me there may be slippery slopes ahead… and that before rushing into action, even before spinning stories about what's just shown up, it may be advisable to take a longer, closer second look.

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