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).

Next: Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience