This Rocky Mountain lady’s slipper is one of Charlie’s favorite orchids.
Bertha Lake is really important to Charlie, one of my two main characters. He wanted the novel to begin here and to end here.
Bertha is a fairly challenging hike for a seventy-year-old. But then Charlie was in pretty good shape because he knew he’d have to be.
Or better yet, stop and sniff the Rocky Mountain lady’s slippers. The orchid up above is from a patch Charlie found on one of his hikes up to Bertha, but since it’s quite rare, endanger even in some places, he didn’t tell anyone about it. He figured the fewer who knew about his patch the better.
In 2005, Charlie retired from teaching highschool English in Saskatoon, SK. He soon realized, however, that he was just drifting. He no longer had any sense of meaning in his life. No goals. No reason to get up in the morning. (I talked about this in the “About” on my website.)
He and BJ, his partner, had had numerous post-breakfast discussions about this out on the patio. And they’d just returned from a trip to Saskatoon for the back-to-back funerals of his two best friends, his only friends really. And he’d just reread William Glasser’s Choice Theory, and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil.
And then the epiphany.
Suddenly one evening in the shower, Charlie clearly understood things he’d only ever partially understood before. He realized he could no longer blame anyone else for anything. He realized he, alone, was fully responsible for himself and for his life.
Up to that point, he’d always offloaded. Anything he didn’t like about himself or his life had been caused by his parents, his neighbors, his friends, his education, his wife, his kids, his bosses, the church, the government, or his genes, mostly his genes.
But no longer.
And within twenty-four hours of that shower, the number 13, as a mnemonic, had become the most important part of his new life. He’d chosen it as a moment-by-moment reminder that there is no such thing as good luck or bad luck. There are only happenings. And those happenings are absolutely neutral. No innate goodness or badness.
An individual, of course, might choose to call a particular happening good or bad, and talk about luck, but that value judgment comes from the individual, not from the happening itself.
Charlie soon began to base everything he did on the number 13 or on variations of it: 13 – 26 – 3 – 9 – 1 + 3 = 4 – All of the above. The variations were just as important as the number 13. Each was a reminder that he was responsible for every minute of every day. And if he didn’t like something about himself or his life, he alone was responsible to change it.
He started each morning with 13 almonds and 13 grapes, as well as some other stuff. And he had 4 cups of coffee. Mnemonics.
And when he worked, he set his timer for 26 minutes – two 13s. But if he was in the middle of something, he could set the timer for an additional 9. Then he had to get up and move around for 9 minutes. Get a cup of coffee. Munch on some of his chopped-up veggies. Check to see what was going on at the birdbath. And then back at it for another 26-minute cycle, usually 26 + 9.
All this mnemonic stuff might sound really goofy. And on one level it is. But on another level every minute of Charlie’s day was a reminder. No good luck. No bad luck. No off-loading. If he was having a bad day, he was the one who was creating that bad day. If he was having a good day, he was the one who was creating that good day.
Charlie talks a bit about the number 13 in the novel, but he doesn’t go into any of the details I just mentioned. Hemingway’s iceberg. Right?
At one point, though, he does mention how much he loves their address at the Arnscourt Villas. 13 Cheyenne Drive W. His favorite number, 13, and one of his favorite US cities, Cheyenne. Every year after the Harley rally in Sturgis, he’d headed down to a little B&B just south of Cheyenne off WY-85 for three days.
He’d spend most of his time at the Cassidy Kid Saloon on the west side of Cheyenne watching the gnarly old-timers at the bar who were sporting sweat-stained Stetsons, and jangling spurs, and two mammoth six-shooters, one on each hip, which they claimed they needed for rattlesnakes.
When he first explained about the 13 almonds and the 13 grapes to BJ, though, she just rolled her eyes.
“Listen,” he said. “Since no two psychiatrists and no two psychologists agree with each other a hundred percent, ever, about anything, I have an unlimited range of expert opinions to choose from. And one or more of those experts would have to think what I’m up to is bang on.
“Even bakers would understand what I’m doing.”
“Yep. Baker’s dozen.”
She leaned forward and put her head in her hands.
A few decades later, up at Bertha Lake, Charlie explained his epiphany to a friend.
“Sometimes, my dear, we wish we could have absolute control over what comes into our lives. But it’s very fortunate, very, very fortunate, that we don’t. We’re handed one surprise after another. Chance meetings. Accidents. Illnesses. The right place at the right time. Or the wrong place.
“We don’t plan those things. They’re gifts for us to work with. Neutral gifts. Neither good nor bad.
“And the only thing that counts is what we do with them.”
She didn’t say anything. She’d gone quiet.
“We can only control how we react,” he repeated. “We can choose to embrace those gifts, and work with them, and grow. Or we can choose to allow them to destroy us. Either way, we, alone, are each responsible for who we are and who we’ll become.
“And the second we accept that responsibility, we become completely free.”
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(© 2017 Glenn Christianson. All rights reserved.)
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