What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control
Thankfully, my French teacher wasn’t there to witness my butchery of the language at the dinner table in France. Otherwise, she might have held me back a year. But she didn’t, and soon enough, I had racked up enough credits to put high school in the rear-view mirror. Ditto for Nicholas. It was time for us to strike off on our own.
For my brother, that meant joining the army and heading to Quebec to begin his basic training. And for me, it meant attending Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, an hour west of Toronto.
Although I was sad that my lifelong partner in crime and I were going our separate ways, I soon found a group of friends at school whose love for idiotic shenanigans rivalled the one I shared with Nicholas.
Before long, I was living with five of those idiots inside a dump of a student house on Marshall Street. The furniture inside looked like Ikea’s transient cousin had thrown up in our living room. No one knew for sure if the vacuum cleaner even worked. And the festering pile of dishes in the sink was enough to make a billy goat puke.
I didn’t even have a bedroom. Instead, I paid a hundred bucks a month to sleep in the laundry room on a single bed I squeezed next to the washer and dryer.
You’d think that the money I was saving by living in squalor would have inspired me to loosen the purse strings on other spending. Nope. I was cheap to the core and so were my roommates. After all, why spend beer money on new furniture when there’s a nearly stain-free couch available for free on the curb down the street?
Our frugality also meant we would always walk to the bars on Saturday nights to save a few bucks on taxis. However, one night I was feeling particularly lazy. That’s when my friend Royce made a brilliant suggestion.
Our driveway always had at least one shopping cart parked in it, much to the consternation of our neighbours. That’s because none of us owned a car, so we would simply push our loaded carts home with us from the grocery store, rather than try to carry all the bags.
“Get in!” Royce said, pointing to a cart. “I’ll push you to the bar.” No further prompting was required.
By this point, I considered Royce to be one of my best friends. Even so, as I climbed enthusiastically into that death trap on wobbly wheels, I should have known better. Facing forward, I cheered Royce on as he pushed me faster and faster down the darkened street.
However, it didn’t take long for my courage to falter. “Okay, Royce!” I yelled over the clattering of the shopping cart. “Slow down!”
No response. “Slow down, Royce!” I shouted, louder this time.
Still nothing. “… Royce?”
The cart showed no signs of slowing down. Hanging on for dear life, I risked a glance over my shoulder to sternly insist that my good and trusted friend stop the cart immediately. Unfortunately, my good and trusted friend was now twenty yards behind me with a stupid grin on his face.
He had let go of the cart, sending me hurtling into the night.
Shopping carts are not known for their steering or braking capabilities, so there was little that I could do except go along for the ride. Turning forward once again, I was reminded that shopping carts also have notoriously poor alignment.
Sure enough, my mobile, metal coffin started drifting to the right — putting me on a collision course with a fire hydrant. With no time to waste, I attempted to extricate myself from my impending doom. However, leaping from a speeding shopping cart is trickier than you might think.
A moment later, I crashed squarely into the hydrant and was launched from the cart as if from a catapult.
I flipped head over heels, cleared the fire hydrant and landed with a dull thud on the other side.
Laying there with the wind knocked out of me and spots in my vision, I heard Royce and the others racing toward me. I’m sure they were glad I hadn’t been killed. Disposing of a body is no way to spend a Saturday night.
I completed the remainder of the journey on foot, hoping no one at the bar would notice the grass stains.
Sometimes life hands you challenges where you have a real say in the outcome. Study hard at school and you’ll increase your chances of getting good grades. Train every day for that race and you’re more likely to make the podium. Put in the extra effort at work and you might get rewarded with a bonus.
But sometimes life hands you challenges where you have far less control. Hit a patch of black ice while driving. Wake up to a global pandemic. Fly down the street inside a shopping cart. And when those things happen, sometimes all you can do is hold on tight and hope for the best.
While I was undergoing chemotherapy, there were many times when I felt like I did that night in the shopping cart: terrified, out of control and headed for disaster. My brain was a perpetual buzz of worried thoughts as I attempted to wrap my head around every possible scenario in my health journey and figure out what I could do to get out of this mess.
I was trying to control an uncontrollable situation, and it was driving me crazy.
But then I had a turning point. I was hunched over the bathroom sink one evening, feeling nauseous, alone and defeated. Months into my treatment, I had reached a breaking point. “I can’t do this,” I said out loud, although I was the only one there to hear.
That might sound like an admission of defeat. But it turned out to be one of the most liberating moments in my journey. After saying those words, I immediately felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Because I was absolutely right. I couldn’t do this. Not by myself. Although I was doing whatever I could to follow my doctors’ orders, there was so much that was out of my hands. And accepting that filled me with a tremendous calm and quieted the beehive in my brain.
It can be hard to give up control. But there’s also power in surrender and a peace that can come from being willing to just go along for the ride (unless it’s Royce behind the proverbial wheel, of course).