78: Lifting the Blue Shadow

78: Lifting the Blue Shadow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Lifting the Blue Shadow

If we live long enough and deep enough and authentically enough, gratitude becomes a way of life.

~Mark Nepo

Until 2008 I had never watched the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The whole concept of the small town guy, George Bailey, in financial difficulty and on the verge of suicide, being saved by a guardian angel on Christmas Eve seemed too clichéd for me. But that year I gave into the holiday spirit, plunked a copy into the DVD player, sat back and enjoyed.

The next day, perhaps subconsciously influenced by the holiday classic, I decided I was due for my own Christmas miracle. I decided to give myself a gift — a Red Shadow motorcycle. I had been vacillating for weeks and now my mind was made up.

With my heart thumping I drove to the motorcycle shop. In the showroom, the Red Shadow glowed brighter than fire. I swung my leg over the side, settled into the perfectly angled leather seat, and smiled. Looking up from his desk the salesman shook his head and said, “Sorry, she just sold.”

“But,” he said thoughtfully, “there’s a Blue Shadow upstairs, identical in every way except she’s blue. Won’t hurt to take a look.” I reluctantly dismounted my Christmas wish and, to humour the man, I slowly climbed the stairs. There, in a dimly lit storage area my eyes came to rest on a cerulean blue gas tank — a colour as rich and pure as a midsummer sky. Even in the low light, the Blue Shadow’s chrome exhaust pipes and mufflers sparkled. It made the Red Shadow look like a cheap tart. In a trance I mounted, adjusted the mirrors and squeezed the handgrips. I could feel it saying, “I’m yours.”

With a deal to make, I sauntered down the stairs, forcing my wide grin into a pensive frown. “Well, I really wanted the red one,” I said.

Rolling his chair away from his desk, the salesman threw down his pen and said, “How about I knock two thousand off the price, seeing as it’s Christmas and all?”

We shook hands. “I’ll be back to do the deal after I take care of a few things. Don’t sell it to anyone else.”

In truth, I was headed straight for my accountant’s office. My self-employed artist-self had befallen a nasty tax audit. And as much as I wanted that bike, as much as I thought I deserved that bike, I knew I had to get the tax monkey off my back before it could be mine.

Staring across the desk at the rumpled man in the suit I was filled with annoyance. He had lost my file for over eight months and taken close to six thousand of my dollars without absolving me of anything. Now he was telling me I needed to hire a big city tax lawyer. In response to my aggressive reaction to this he interrupted, “There’s a storm coming. You probably want to be off before it hits.”

“So I can’t be purchasing a motorcycle then?”

“Not until you pay this off,” he said.

I stomped out into the snow, climbed into my truck and began to curse. With the overwhelming desire for a stiff drink, I was reminded of the movie the evening before and George Bailey who, when faced with his financial problems, headed straight for a bar and got very drunk. He then hopped into his car and drove through a winter storm contemplating suicide. He owed eight thousand dollars, a lot of money in those days, yet in today’s dollars I owed about the same.

As the frost cleared from my windshield I realized that having even one drink and driving on the highway in this weather would be reckless. I decided instead to head home, and carefully pulled my fishtailing truck onto the country road — straight into a wall of sleet and gusting winds. A transport truck whooshed past me, covering my windshield with its sideways blast. I anxiously drove at a crawl, but then as I rounded the crest of a hill the howling whiteness suddenly dissolved into clear stillness. The storm had passed.

A sinking orange sun on the horizon revealed an artist’s dream. Long indigo shadows glowed behind snow-laden trees, and inspiration for a new painting hit me. From a kilometre away I spotted the cab of an old rusty truck poking out of the snow. As I approached, the golden line of sinking sunlight rose up over its roof. Distracted by the suddenly dimming light, I slid sideways into the ditch with a thudding crunch.

Pulling out my cell phone I called for roadside assistance. A faint recorded message replied, “We are experiencing a high number of calls etc., etc.,” Beep… beep… beep. “Your call will be…” the phone battery died. Billowy snowflakes softly and silently covered the wind-shield. Darkness fell.

Again the movie came to mind. After slamming his car into a tree George Bailey ran to the river bridge, leaned over the railing and contemplated jumping. While looking into the foaming water, his prayers summoned a guardian angel.

A prayer wouldn’t hurt, I thought. It did offer a sense of calm in moments of darkness. Moments later, out there in the darkness, I heard faint jingling and jangling noises. Was I dreaming?

No — outside a stranger was hooking chains onto my back bumper. His large white logging truck was already positioned to pull. He refused to take any money. I shook his hand, thanked him profusely, and wished him a Merry Christmas. Unscathed, my truck fairly leapt out of the ditch.

Now full of gratitude and good cheer I headed for home. On the way, a flickering sign reading “Christmas Trees for Sale” caught my attention. I turned in. Bundled up in a quilted coat, and rocking back and forth to keep warm, a woman in her late sixties was preparing to close for the night. Feeling high on the kindness of the trucker I found myself telling her how silly I felt for spending most of the day feeling sorry for myself. Holding up the perfect tree she said, “Why would someone like you ever feel sorry for himself?”

I relayed my anguish over a huge tax bill, then landing in a ditch only to be rescued by an angel in a big white truck.

“Six years ago Revenue Canada was after me too,” the woman admitted. “They don’t like seasonal workers. They said I owed them a whole lot of money. I was so distraught I even contemplated suicide. As fate would have it, my first grandchild was born that year, something far more important than money troubles. And the man that pulled you out of the ditch? That would be Matthew. He’s having a pretty bad year himself, but he’ll always do for others.”

Invigorated by the influence of my two angels, I drove home with a fragrant fir tree, and a reminder that I too was expecting my first grandchild in the New Year. I was convinced that goodness would prevail. Perhaps I’d experienced my own Christmas miracle after all.

The next night, to celebrate the decorating of our tree, our family held a dinner party for friends. Over dessert, I recounted my story of despair, then meeting the two angels. A guest, the local pastor, asked if he could tell my story as his Christmas Eve homily.

“Of course,” I consented. “But could you take up a special collection at the end of the service?”

“For what charity?” he asked.

I laughed, “For my Blue Shadow motorcycle, of course!”

~Lloyd Walton

Port Carling, Ontario

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