Middle of the Second

Mundane Moments

In time, the giant lurching machine would become a nightmare for him, but at the moment, the young man— Michael, the Intern—could barely contain his excitement. As the overgrown copier, literally filling a room by itself, processed each individual piece of paper, seemingly with all the pomp and circumstance of a royal coronation, the Intern had difficulty treating any single thought in his mind as anything more than a passing fly. It wasn’t that none of his thoughts were worth more than the brief moment it existed within his brain, it’s that he was completely and utterly overwhelmed by that singularly mundane action of making photocopies.

Michael considered himself a student of history and not just the history that entire university departments are built around. He was a fan of the mundane moments in both average and above-average lives that direct the course of personal histories as well as the ones that get etched in books. He knew that every moment in time had its own history and that every moment in time set the course for future moments. History was an endless, timeless progression of mundane moments, some of which stay mundane and some of which become quite a bit more. And he knew, all too well, how a single moment could be completely mundane to one person, was life-changing—history-changing—for someone else.

It was a series of mundane moments that unfolded in perfect order that landed him there, listening to those individual pieces of paper run through that particular copier in that cramped room within that warehouse within THAT ballpark. And while the information being imprinted on each of those papers was only slightly more than mundane, it would eventually write a history that was, well, historic … life-changing.

His journey … his roller coaster ride … to this mundane moment started with a moldy, mundane piece of bread.

Searching for a job had started to eat away at him as each day passed and his phone remained silent. It was a soul-destroying endeavor, leaving his confidence crumbling. It seemed relentless and there was no light … just a tunnel.

The classified ads, the internet jobs searches, the emails looking for help … they are an endless list of words that soon form a checklist of failure for him.. They crashed and rocked his spirits, testing him emotionally and physically. Occasionally, there would be a dash of hope, depending on the publication or even day of the week, but it would inevitably get crushed.. With each page of classifieds turned, the desperation mounts and begins to consume. More often than not, the last page is turned without offering up even a tease of salvation.

He treats each application like sacred prose, crafting his notes carefully, each word chosen and written as if it was the word that would save his life…In a way, they were. Each is placed into position until the perfect combination of poetry and dissertation have been met. Ever so carefully, the sheet of paper, as if living ceramic, is placed into its bottle. Heart and soul are then poured in before it is gently placed into the abyss … a vast ocean off to the distant shoreline and the young man stares into the heavens, looking for St. Elmo himself.

Three weeks had passed since he had driven off into a rainstorm to find some peace of mind and found, instead, a piece of his heart that he had long forgotten. While he found direction and hope, he still had yet to find the means to his salvation. He had spent nearly every hour outside of work researching teams and sending resumes. The glimpse of hope had made him impatient, which made him anxious, which in turn made him depressed. Realistically, he did not expect to hear back from anyone, not right away, but with each unanswered resume that he sent off, hope would sink a little more.

The stress was rising and each new day seemed to bring another argument with his girlfriend. Meals of baked beans on rice were growing old and he longed for more. He didn’t want much, he thought, he just wanted to be proud of himself. He wanted his loved ones to be proud of him. He wanted the option to return home to not be an option at all. Returning home now, he felt, was something he’d never recover from. Something he would never live down, and surely he would lose everything. Returning home meant drowning.

It all weighed heavily as Michael stared into the mirror and tied his five-dollar tie and pulled on his out-of-fashion sports coat, mostly just to cover the dress shirt that was wearing away at the elbows. His job wasn’t bad and he worked with mostly good people. However, it’s not what he wanted … it isn’t what he felt he was destined for. He needed more and he felt that everyone around him knew that.

Before grabbing his wallet from his nightstand, he glanced down at the Bible that he had owned since grammar school. He touched the cover gently with two of his fingers and muttered, to himself … or to whoever might be listening … “Please help me.”

He went down the long corridor to the kitchen that he shared with two other guys. Another breakfast of toast and some bizarre butter-like spread. Just as he dropped the bread into the toaster, he noticed the small green patch on the corner and something snapped, and then something else snapped, and then, in an instant, he felt like his whole life just … snapped.

The typical wooden mousetrap is a relatively simple device. Anyone who has taken the time to look at one … to examine it … realizes just how simple it is. A small piece of wood with bits of steel arranged in such a way that someone not knowing what it is would think it is a puzzle. It is designed to create what, on a relative basis, is a small bit of tension. That tension is all held together by an extremely small bit of metal attached to a lever that is literally just waiting to release its full force.

When triggered, the tension is released in a split second, which, in the absence of a mouse or a finger, slams into the plank of wood and sends it flipping. The key is in that tension that it holds. Individually, it isn’t much to speak of. Now, in a room whose floor is covered in these traps, each one of them is set and waiting to release its tension. A precarious balance is maintained as each and every trap waits for its trigger, whether it is maybe a mouse or maybe even just a fly, or possibly, even just the breakdown in the small, roughly made piece of metal. All it takes is for just one of those tension bombs to go off, and within moments, every trap will have exploded as one flips in the air, crashes down on two others that explode, resulting in a cascade of snapping wood.

Each overdue bill, each meal of rice and beans, each item he couldn’t afford, the girl he loved 99 miles away, the holes in the clothes he struggled to pass off as dress clothes, the pain-in-the-ass co-worker, the car that sometimes needed to be pushed to start it, and every other stress was individually, in and of itself, just a small, relatively harmless mouse trap, sitting by itself in his mind. He managed to keep them in order … keep them all in a delicate balance and away from each other. For a long time now, it seemed, he kept them from going off. He kept them balanced and protected. He had no other choice.

However, for some reason, that small patch of mold … that mundane patch of mold on a mundane piece of bread in a mundane moment in a mundane morning … was a feather that came from nowhere and innocently landed on just one of those traps. Michael felt his brain explode.

After walking to the back door, physically “rearranging” the structure of the loaf of bread and “decorating” his own car with it from the second-story apartment, he walked back to his room, pulling back off his clothes while also adjusting the physical structure of his shirt.

He could feel the anger flooding through his brain like the waters of a tsunami. It swept in, unchallenged and unmitigated, filling every corner of his brain. It was an instant and scary amount of energy let loose within him, and there was no outlet and no telling what he could do at that moment. Only a small thread of logic held on and sent him into his room, away from the belongings of his roommates. He remained rational enough to know that punishing the few nice things he had wasn’t the answer, either. However, the energy, the forces that were unleashed needed an outlet. The frustration needed someplace to go.

He collapsed face-first into his bed and put his mouth into his pillow and from the very deepest part of his soul, he let out a series of long guttural screams. The pure frustration poured out and it wasn’t long before they turned to cries for help as he felt the world spinning out of control. It wasn’t long after that he just turned to sobbing.

After several minutes of this, he calmed down and tried to figure out what to do next when he heard a familiar sound … a slow almost silent sound. It was the kind of sound that could possibly be always present in the background of life. A soft swaying sound that doesn’t play in any sort of melody. A slow sound that could almost be a whisper speaking so softly that it is lost among all the other sounds that clutter life. Yet a sound so strong that once it is heard, it can’t be ignored and you are left wondering if it had, in fact, always been present. It is a sound, a whisper that can only be heard once all other noise has been cleared. The ears … the brain … the heart needs to be prepared to hear it.

Suddenly he felt a sensation of relief brought on by this strange, yet familiar sound, and as he felt his body sink into itself, chills spread up his spine. He remembered what the sound was … It was the sound of the wind blowing gently through the corn stalks at the baseball field that day. He could feel his brain calming again. He felt the tsunami waters receding from his head. Michael could feel all those problems, all his issues disappearing into the corn stalks. He felt as if he was back standing on that field. And he wept a little bit more.

He thought of the bright green grass of the field standing in contrast to the golden corn stalks that surrounded it. He could see all of it against the background of the orange, red, and green hillsides under crystal clear blue skies, and he felt as if he was back there. Back where it was just him and the diamond and the voice of a thousand ears of corn. He knew it was time to listen. Time to stop ignoring and time to start listening. Time to shut down all the other noises and time to listen for real.

Finally, he opened his eyes to figure out where it had come from. He sat up in his bed and looked around his tiny bedroom and realized his door was closed, as were his windows. He didn’t bother trying to figure it out for very long and he accepted it. As he looked around, he saw the Bible on his nightstand again. This time, he noticed an old ticket stub in its pages that a friend who knew how much he loved baseball, had given him a few months ago. It was from one of the first games at the brand new ballpark.

He wasn’t sure how the tan, yellow, orange, and black ticket stub had gotten into his Bible. He remembered driving with his friend, who had pulled it casually off his dash and told him to take it, telling him a story about going to the game with another baseball junkie. He no longer remembered the details but had thought it odd that his friend would have gone to the game. He never picked him to be much of a fan.

He remembers carefully sticking it in a shirt pocket, someplace he could protect it from getting wrinkled. He loved old ticket stubs. There was something magical about them. Each had its own story about joy or heartbreak. They were both anticipation, fulfillment, and memory all rolled into a small piece of cardboard. For him, they were magic. He had one from every game he had ever been to and kept them in a baseball encyclopedia that his uncle had given him when he was younger. He figured that he was getting undressed and had put it in the Bible that was always on his nightstand until he could get it into the encyclopedia.

He picked up the Bible and flipped to the page marked with the ticket stub.

One line popped off the page for him: “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

He looked at the stub again and reread the passage. Michael knew what he had to do. The next thing he knew, there he was, weeks later, making copies that had the information that the whole baseball world was waiting for (or so he imagined) and getting ready to help with his first press conference.

All thanks to one mundane, life-changing, personal history-changing moment.

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