One of the last days I was in Lake Louise was not my best day on the road. I was questioning my work, my trip and my life, to be honest. I have an almost unquenchable positivity about me–always have. But when I run out of positivity, I can crash pretty hard. I guess it’s because I’m not used to it. Thank goodness, the guardian angels were watching out for me. I was just kind of surprised at the form they took.
I won’t bore you with the gory details about how that day got to the crash point, but there I was. I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing being in Canada. I was desperately trying to figure out my next move with the business. In some ways, I have never been comfortable doing what I do. I love writing, and I obviously was meant to be a writer. I’ve just never been sure I am doing the right thing WITH my writing.
To make things worse, I had gotten into one of those pity-party moods where I beat myself up for certain difficult characteristics I have–namely that I tend to forget things and lose things.
The only thing I knew that day was that I had clients counting on me. So, I tried to forget my woes and rolled out of the truck, where I had slept in a recreation area just outside of Lake Louise. It was a beautiful late morning. I practiced my Certified Safe Outhouse procedure (see previous blog), floated a woven blanket onto the top of a picnic table, set up the electronics and got to work.
After what must have been longer than it seemed, an elderly man slowly walked by my table. He was concentrating hard on the walking itself, taking small, shuffling steps. His held a parcel in one hand and a small cooler in the other. As he passed me, I said, “Good morning.” He stopped walking, carefully looked up and to the side at me, and with a smile said, “Hello.”
He very slowly and deliberately walked almost to the back of the picnic area, where he spread out his food and a newspaper.
When he was finished, he made his tenuous way back to my table. “It’s a good day for a picnic,” I said, wanting to be friendly. He didn’t seem lonely. Just alone.
That was the beginning of a conversation that has colored my days ever since. Guenther (GOON-tah, as he pronounced it in his heavy German accent) told me everything about his life, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. I injected a thought or two and various stories about my life, but this conversation was his. There was a sense of urgency to it. It was as thought he couldn’t help himself. I had a call to make for a client, but nothing I did stopped him from talking. I tried ignoring him, explaining that I was working, even came right out and said I was supposed be on a call right then. No dice. Kept talking.
Maybe he didn’t have anyone else to talk to. Was the universe trying to tell me something special through this man? Then a butterfly flitted around behind him, and I decided it could be sign. I didn’t have a choice, anyway. I’d better settle in and listen. Something good was bound to come from this.
He had been coming to this area for picnics since 1961. He told me how much it had changed. Everything used to be very open, and now you are only allowed to go certain places. “I know!” I said, “There are curbs everywhere, and I feel like a lab rat.” They are trying to control the crowds, he said, but it’s a shame. You used to be able to drive right up to the picnic tables and the big stone fireplace at the top of the hill. Even the old highway is now closed, and it’s a shame he said, because you can no longer get the feeling of being out in the wild–so beautiful.
He told me about his family. His wife had died 15 years ago. He had called a friend in Europe after he arrived in Canada and asked him to invite another friend’s sister to come across the ocean and be his wife. They hadn’t ever before met. When she arrived, they married and later adopted a daughter, who now lives in Switzerland with her husband and his grandchildren. He told me his philosophy of parenting: tell your children what they don’t want to do and why…no drugs, no violence, take care of yourself.
As a young man of 17, Guenther had been sent to a Polish work camp during the war, which he said “you know was really just as terrible as the concentration camps.” He saw horrible things, and it made him think. He wondered if this was just the way the world was. He was sent to Siberia, suddenly the war was over, and he was one of the first to be sent home alive from there, he said. “They used you up in Siberia,” he said, “and when they finally decided to send you home, if they did, there was not much left of you.” (Or something like that.)
He decided to come to Canada, where he worked on the railroad. He started in the yard, did many other jobs and ended up as a conductor. Then he worked for an engineering company that did not pay him or other workers well. The company was bought out by another, and suddenly things got better. They recognized his talent, and called on him to do many things. He became the go-to person for certain types of jobs.
Here is the key: He said his boss did whatever he could to support his work, and then let him go do it. He suddenly took off in his work–doing amazing things. “When you find the spot you belong in,” he said, “you will take off, and work is not hard, and nobody can stop you!”
The conversation lasted more than an hour, but the gist of it is this: When I find where I belong in my work (just the thing I had been agonizing over), I will take off, and nobody can stop me! Also, he said, “No matter how low things get, I am the most blessed person in the world.” He meant me…and everyone else. I was justly brought out of my pity-party-slump.
He gave me his card, and I gave him mine. He told me to enjoy my day and call him anytime, then he took off like a bat out of hell in his shiny VW. He practically flew out of the picnic area, and a glint of sunlight sparkled off the chrome as he rounded the corner.
That was guardian angel number one.
That conversation did bring me up. It put things into perspective. I have a responsibility to myself to find that sweet spot where I will thrive–not where other people think I should be. And I shouldn’t worry so much about whether I will be “successful”. No matter how low things get, I am still the most blessed person in the world.
So, I pulled myself up by my hiking boots, and bopped back into town. First, I needed to stop at the grocery store, a CUTE little place that was packed with people. I spent a good 15 minutes browsing around and planning my purchases: a bag of potatoes, a stick of butter, a scratcher for my aluminum cook kit, a big jar of honey roasted peanuts. I stepped into the checkout line, and as my chosen items went over the UPC reader one at a time, I reached toward the little outside zipper pocket f my backpack…wha!…No! It was zipped open, and the coin purse was gone!
I caught my breath and panicked. Now what? I looked around, then it hit me. Someone probably unzipped it and stole the purse as I was walking. Cripes! Nothing like that has ever happened to me. I’m sure I turned various shades of white, then red, then my eyes probably bugged out. I didn’t know what to do. I told the clerk I had lost my wallet, and said I would go look for it, sure that I would not find it. Turns out I wouldn’t have.
The gentleman standing right behind me timidly asked, you wouldn’t be looking for this, would you? He held up my tapestry zippered coin purse, and I once more had an internal conniption fit. “YESthankyouwheredidyoufindit?!!” He had picked it up in the aisle. “How did that happen?” I asked the entire line of patrons, which numbered about eight by that time. “I can’t believe it just fell out.”
“Maybe I should have made you suffer a little more,” he said, as though he was my father. “You probably should have,” I laughed, not really thinking it was funny. “But thank you, thank you, thank you!” I stuck my hand out and shook his hand. We talked a tiny bit as the clerk finished ringing up my purchases. He is a bus driver. He comes to Lake Louise all the time with busses full of tourists. I’ll bet mine is not the first stray wallet he’s found.
Guardian angel number two.
THEN, I decided to go work at the grand Fairmont Lake Louise Inn, a gorgeous property were everything costs a fortune, and you are surrounded by beauty, brains and brats, and you love it. A previous day, I had worked an entire nine hours on the same stool at the sophisticated marble topped bar, looking out onto the lake until the sun set and our shiny reflections replaced the unreal image of the lake in the windows.
This day, I parked in the top parking lot for fun, and decided to ride my bike down the hill, knowing I would have to walk it partway back up, because I am in nowhere near good shape. I had a blast packing my backpack, pumping up my tires (feeling clever to have thrown in the foot pump at the last minute). I popped my safari hat on my head and careened down the hill. When I reached the walking path, I pushed the bike up the hill to the front door and asked where the bike racks are. Down the hill, of course. I walked the bike back down the hill and locked it up, then strolled through the back door, up the stairs into the main lobby, where I took a photo of a harp player, then up two more flights of stairs to a beautiful old carved desk I knew was there. (I am telling you all of the time-consuming details for a reason.)
I put my things down into a side chair, and….NO! No way! No computer. Worse…I realized I had forgotten to put the computer, independent keyboard AND the iPad into my pack. WORSE YET: I had left them ON TOP OF THE JEEP IN THE BLISTERING SUN!!! Aghhh! Pain, agony! (Remember Hee Haw?)
Breathlessly (I could feel the heart attack coming on), I gathered up the things I HAD brought, practically fell down the two flights of steps, ran into the concierge office to see if they had a shuttle that could take me up the hill…NO! So I ran out the door and asked the bellman…NO! So I ran as fast as I could (which is not very fast, and about killed me in the altitude), and fumblingly unlocked my bike, which of course took longer because I was hurrying, then rode down the walking path where bikes are not allowed, then barreled through the lower parking lot, cut in front of a tour bus, and…hit the hill. I couldn’t do anything but jump off and push the dang thing up the hill at an agonizingly slow pace that I was sure was giving the thief just enough time to get away with my thousands of dollars of gear and irreplaceable unbackedup (new word) files.
Finally, I reached the top of the hill. By this time, tears of terror, sorrow and embarrassment were leaking down my face, and my breath was coming in big humps of rising panic. I realized whether I found my things on top of the truck or didn’t find them, I was going to lose it. Sure enough, when I came around the edge of the big RV parked next to me and saw the edges of the gear peaking out from behind the car top carrier…I did lose it. I grabbed that little stack of MY LIFE, and stumbled up the hill in front of my truck. I pulled my hat down over my face, and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, trying to ignore the hikers behind me and catch my breath from the record-breaking (for Kindra) ride-walk-ride up the hill.
Guardian angel number three. Invisible. Beloved.
I pulled myself together, and decided I was not going to let this ruin my good efforts to find the sweet spot in my work that would make me take off, as Guenther promised! So I drove the Jeep to a closer parking space, walked back up the hill and the three flights of stairs to the desk. I got out the computer, then decided–what the heck–I deserved a brew. So, I went back down two flights of stairs to the lounge, where I took my old seat and ordered a beer. I closed the place down, and still had work to do, so I headed back up to the beautiful carved desk. When I got there, I looked under the desk. There was a brown high-tech-looking computer envelope there. Hmmm…looks much like mine, like the one in my arms…wait! What?! It IS mine. I had removed it when I first came up to the desk, and it had been sitting there for hours, unstolen (another new word).
Invisible guardian angel four.
Or maybe they were one and the same. Obviously, as Guenther said, no matter how low things get, I am the most blessed person in the world.