Breaking Into The Department Store

Mac the Moose stands on the edge of Moose Jaw.
Mac the Moose stands on the edge of Moose Jaw. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day, while in high school, while walking in downtown Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (yes that is a real place), my friend Glen Mueller and I broke into the Met Department Store. Perhaps ‘broke in’ is misleading. We walked by the store and one of us pulled on the door for fun – and it opened. This was many years ago at a time when stores still closed on Sunday.

It was a very surreal experience. Suddenly we were transported into a storehouse of riches. We could not believe our luck. Looking back I am slightly embarrassed that we did not just turn around and walk out, but at the time the temptation was too great.

The problem was, we panicked. We had no idea what was going on and were quite sure that we were not supposed to be left alone in our treasure trove of riches.

We stole a watch.


We had the entire store at our disposal and we stole a watch. We almost didn’t do that much, we were so frightened. I cannot remember what happened to that watch but I’m pretty sure it was all Glen’s idea.

I have often reflected on how this memory is like life. How many opportunities missed, how many times have we been given a bit of light, only to squander it because of fear and desperation? How many times have I turned left when I should have turned right?

There are usually reasons why I make the wrong choices. Most of those reasons begin with, “It was easier to…” or “but I really want to!”. Like many of us my natural propensity is to take shortcuts or do was is easiest. Real change or real opportunity usually takes real work and it is easier to give the appearance of effort without putting in the hard time needed to move forward.

There is no magic pill.

There are a few very true statements about change that I remind patients from time to time. Change usually takes a great deal longer than we imagine. It also isn’t usually as drastic as we assume either. Last, but certainly not least, change isn’t always measurable or even immediately noticable. Take for example, a decision to go on antidepressents. The magic does not ordinarily kick in the first hour or first day. Often you don’t feel any better even after the first week. One day you come in to my office and I ask you how things have been and you admit that you feel “a little bit better”. That is how antidepressents work. They aren’t supposed to make you stoned, aren’t supposed to drastically impact your day. That is like change.

You can say the same thing for battling depression, or dealing with anxiety, or processing trauma. In fact you can use these axioms for much of life in general. Real life is usually, well it’s usually kind of boring. Few decisions radically affect our present unless they are bad decisions. Good things come to those who get up in the morning. Who get dressed. Who try. Who work at it. Who persevere.

Who do the right thing day after day after day.

Casual Friday – How Long Have You Been Alive?

Empire State BuildingTony Campolo tells a story about how he challenged his students at Eastern College by asking them, “how long have you been alive”? They responded by reciting their birthdays, almost without thinking. Then he turned to them and asked again, “how long have you really been alive”? He went on to tell of a time that as a child, he stood on the Empire State Building and for a few brief moments, as the wind whipped his hair and the panorama overwhelmed him, felt fully alive. Then he turned to his students again and said, “now, how long have you been alive?”

Some years ago I went skydiving with my friends Fergus and Wendy in Fort McMurray, Canada during an impending rain storm. It was one of those days when you could see the vistas of the horizon and watch the heavy grey clouds roll in like a blanket. It was undoubtedly not a pristine skydiving opportunity but we were anxious to get in a jump, despite our best interests. As we rose to meet the sky the clouds extended over us like a cotton canopy. We leveled out at approximately 6500 feet and flew just under the clouds. I climbed out of the door and held on to the top rim. The wind in my hair I watched the plane skim just under the unbroken cloud. On a whim I reached up and wiped my hand through the fluffy billows, splaying them behind me. For that moment, I was truly alive.

So much of life I have not lived really alive. Days meld into days without end, seasons come and go. It is easy to just exist but not really live. The older I get the more I understand that my life is so short. It’s very easy to live day after day like time doesn’t matter, wasting hours, even months doing nothing notable, nothing meaningful, taking people and situations for granted.

I had a pretty brutal car accident last year. I was in Saskatchewan, visiting friends and attending a wedding. I broke a few ribs and totalled one of best friend’s cars. Everything initially seemed to work out fine. It was a little later that I realized I was quite shaken by the experience and afraid to drive. I had to use some of the cheesy stuff I teach patients to work through it. Things are fine now but I was left with a pervading sense that I am mortal. Last month when I had a grand mal seizure I was again reminded that we are finite beings and need our lives count. Like you, I still have some things to do and want to make my life count for something.

I want to be awake and alive. I want to fan my had through a few more clouds.

If I close my eyes I can see myself clearly from a distance, standing in the doorway, the solid bank of clouds, looking up – then pushing my hand into the solid mass. There is joy on my face. Truly alive.