2013-01-29 / Opinion

The best headache remedy ever: Good karma


"Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” is a delightful children's book that chronicles the story of Sylvester Duncan, a young donkey whose hobby was collecting unusual-looking, small stones. One day, he came upon a peculiar-looking pebble that was, well, magic. It allowed him to make any wish at all and have it granted so long as he had the charmed bit of gravel in his possession.

Unfortunately, he lost control of it in a moment of panic and the ”¦ well, suffice it to say that after some harrowing trials and tribulations Sylvester ultimately recovered his prize pebble. But rather than utilize it then and there, he decided to lock it away in a safe. Someday it might come in handy, he reasoned, but at that point, why use it? He and his family, who were pictured on their couch embracing together on the book's final page, had all that they wanted.

I thought of Sylvester recently at the conclusion of a trying, dreadfully long week and a particularly unpleasant Friday. I'm not sure whether it was the 11-hour Tuesday, the 12-hour Wednesday, or the 15-hour Thursday I had already put in, but shortly before my classroom began filling in for the week's long-overdue concluding day, I began experiencing the sort of headache that felt like a jackhammering competition was going on inside my skull.

Naturally, I had taken my bottle of over-the-counter headache medicine home the previous week, fearing that it might somehow fall into the wrong hands. Fortunately, a student in one of my classes had some similar medicine in his possession, which I was able to procure in exchange for his getting straight A's for the rest of the year. (Note to the superintendent of schools and my building's principal: That last line was a joke.)

Since it was the last day of classes before midterm exams, the insecurity and immaturity factors amongst the young folks I'm nominally charged with educating was exponentially higher than usual, and despite the pharmaceutical help I had acquired, my head beat ceaselessly like a bass drum all day long. Finally, after what seemed like 50 years of torture but was in reality a mere seven hours of school, the dismissal bell sounded. My responsibilities were far from over, though. Having promised my wife I'd get a long-overdue haircut on the way home, I routed my afternoon commute through downtown Biddeford, where my favorite barbershop is located, arriving there at around 3:30 p.m.

It was closed.

Shaking my aching head, I pressed on to Portland, where I was to redeem a recently discovered $50 gift certificate to a certain grocery store on some items that aren't always available at less exotic markets. After getting off the highway and securing a hard-to-find parking space, I grabbed some cloth shopping bags and headed in. Then panic struck: Had I remembered to bring the gift card? Desperately reaching into the left front pocket of my slacks, I felt a small, flat and rectangular bit of plastic. Relieved and reassured, I pulled it out.

It was from Dunkin Donuts. I had brought the wrong card.

Forlornly, I entered the store, picked out all the fresh fruit the lone $20 bill in my wallet would buy (not much), and headed for the checkout line. Naturally, the lady in front of me had a non-functioning debit card, so she pulled out her purse and began painstakingly counting out loose change to pay for her purchases. Then I heard a gasp. The young woman behind me, who did not have a shopping cart, was nanoseconds from dropping the 10 or so items she was tenuously balancing between her arms, chest, elbows and chin all over the floor. Fortunately, I intervened quickly, carefully removing the most at-risk items one at a time and placing them on the conveyor belt until she was no longer in immediate peril of falling victim to a veritable grocery holocaust. Since her selections were already on the moving counter in front of us, I suggested she move ahead of me in line. As she thanked me sincerely and graciously, I noticed that for the first time all day my head was no longer pounding.

Then as I stood in line behind her, a smiling store employee moving at a feverish rate of speed approached me, handed me a box of cookies, and said, “Thanks for shopping here, sir. Take these home with you!”

There's nothing like instant proof of the existence of good karma. As I recounted every moment of my day to my family back in our warm home, I thought of Sylvester and put those magic cookies in a safe place. Someday maybe we'll eat them, but there wasn't any need to right then. At that moment, we (or at least I) had everything we wanted. 

— Andy Young teaches English at a York County high school. A generally kind man, he only shakes down his students for medicine when it's absolutely necessary.

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