Ryan was a big guy. I mean, a really big guy. I noticed his name-tag, his blue eyes, his reddish hair, his argent wedding ring, and the way he filled out the staff side of the standing desk at the auto parts store. His baby blues wandered up and over me like a blind man’s, apparently unable to see us standing there with the carcass of my Equinox’s dead battery on the counter. With less than adequate customer service, he
helped us talked to us, while the crass interjections to his coworkers kept me on my toes. Every word he spoke seemed to have been marinaded that morning, soaked, and still sopping in an acidic pot of “I don’t give a shit.”
Like a bedwetter in the face of a bully, I would have paid every cent of the $191.99 he wanted to charge me for the new battery had my dad not been there. I maybe would have forked out even more milk money just out of sheer intimidation.
But, no stranger to anything car, my dad is always my first call when, like that morning, I’m sitting in a turned off vehicle, frozen, confused, and helpless. Dwight J. Mains, who has the tenacity of the Tasmanian Devil and the build of a silverback gorilla, sweet-talked a guy named Les into checking out our Equinox at our home earlier that day. Les owns some breed of an auto store, and made me the fool when in seconds he diagnosed a dead battery.
“I thought you said the lights were bright?” my dad asked me, perplexed.
“Yeah…I don’t really know,” said the sheep.
And that’s how I ended up with Ryan in a gold bikini as if chained to Jabba the Hut, with my credit card out and ready to give the guy whatever he wanted. Thankfully, my dad saved the day with four Jedi worthy words.
“Let’s go to Walmart.”
A Dead Battery And A Bullet Dodged
Max at Walmart might have been a downgrade. My dad walked through the auto entrance first, and I followed. Max, a dark-haired tweedle-dee of a robot with “I don’t give a shit” oiling his gears sauntered behind me, and, like the civil human being that I am, I held the door for him…
Listen, Max, it’s not that I expect you to empty your pockets and change into a gold bikini, but I would have appreciated a thank you or at least an ounce of recognition that I exist. You didn’t even look at me! Think of the all the energy I saved you by holding that stupid door.
I watched Max stride behind the standing desk like a careless cyborg, his eyes stuck, rolled to the back of his head. I deconstructed any humanity he may have had with a harsh appraisal driven by personal hurt.
Without any greeting, my dad told him what we needed, and, remaining silent, Max went to the back.
I guess I should be less sensitive, I thought. This must be how car guys do it. Silently.
When Max came back with a battery for $109, I thought to myself, Shoot, I‘d open all the doors for you, Maximillion. Where’s my bikini?
I didn’t even care anymore that he was ruder than Ryan; he at least had a cheaper price. Max, my boy! I paid up, took the battery, and skipped to the parking lot.
My Unimpressive Resume
“I’m glad you were with me,” I told my dad as we climbed back into the car with a new battery and $83 saved. “I would have paid the $200 at the first place.”
That was almost a stupid mistake, but I’m all too familiar with stupid mistakes. From texting the wrong person something sensitive to wasting hundreds of dollars on poor decisions in failed DIY projects, it seems I’ve done it all. I’ve been ripped off multiple times by supposed professionals; I’ve certainly faulted in discernment on many occasions; and I’ve definitely made just plain stupid mistakes.
I gave money once to a scammer at my front door as she wept over her made up children and the fake accident they’d been in. I shanked a shot on goal, playing on my high school soccer team, and I was within feet of an open net. I’m a four-time college dropout. I sold alcohol to a minor when I was 18, but it wasn’t because I was a “cool cashier with the hook-ups.” I was an ignorant, naive kid who had never had a drink in his life, and I just happened to have been drugged up by the dentist that day. I got fired once–different job, if you can believe it. At a show–my own concert–I broke a guitar string, tried to change it on stage and failed miserably in front of a waiting crowd. I walked off, ashamed, and skipped the last song. I’ve hurt people. I’ve lied. I’ve cheated. I allowed depression and anxiety rule my life for years. I’ve given up when I should’ve kept going; I’ve been selfish when I should have been selfless; I’ve failed when everyone else and everything set me up to succeed. I’ve made stupid, stupid, stupid mistakes, and the list could go on and on.
And, with that as my resume, I drove with a new battery and my dad in the passenger seat, grateful I didn’t give all my money to Ryan.
How To Get Wise
“You know where wisdom comes from, right?” my dad asked over my car’s purring engine. I anticipated the answer, just like how when I was a kid he’d ask, “Where do liars go?” and I’d recite, “The White House.”
His friends would laugh.
I don’t like scripts, but I know how to flatter. “You?” I responded.
“Well, yes,” he said with a smile. “But you know how I got wise? From making a lot of stupid mistakes.”
In that moment, I remembered Ryan, Les, Max, my dad–all the car guys–and then idiotic-I-really-thought-the-lights-were-bright me. What separates us? We’ve all failed; everyone, including you, reader, has a resume like mine. But those of us who turn mistakes into lessons, a heap of failure into something redemptive, utter foolishness into sagacity are the most noble. It’s not whether we fall or make stupid mistakes; it’s whether we get back up and keep going.
“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.”
For years, I’ve allowed my past mistakes to immobilize me in shame, guilt, and embarrassment. In fact, I had been putting off fixing the Equinox for awhile because I was nervous to screw it up. But when my dad shed his wisdom like a cloak to pass down, I saw my fifty-six-year-old self telling my son the same thing. “You build on failure,” said Johnny Cash, “You use it as a stepping stone.”
Failures can stop you or propel you. The choice is yours, but wisdom comes only from endurance.
If I’d overpaid Ryan for the new battery, it would have been naive, it would have been a mistake, it would’ve been easily redeemable.
Don’t allow mistakes to kill your battery, like I did mine.
“Close the door on the past,” continued Johnny Cash. “You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
Keep going. Keep trying. Keep living.
What is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about wisdom? Bonus points if you share a favorite quote!