6:00 AM flights test the ability of the most zealous Buddhist to maintain a semblance of neutrality. No one wants to be there; most everyone on that flight would rather take the 8:10 AM flight. But that flight usually costs $200 more, and is always sold out anyway. So you get up at the crack of night and drive to the airport in the first, purple light of the morning.
The cool thing about driving down these normally busy roads is that you get them to yourself. You also tend to see more because you’re not distracted by the pulsing brake lights of the Buick Regal in front of you. There are no other cars, just you and the morning.
A few years ago my friend Jodie Lalonde visited me for a long weekend. A canoe paddle builder and master canoeist, he had spent a few days teaching canoeing classes to students at Rutabaga. The Canadian style is not well-known in the United States, and it is always fun to see what happens when a student realizes they are really, truly in control of their boat. But I digress.
Jodie and I were driving to the airport at 5:15 AM. It was the beginning of summer, and it was light enough to drive without headlights, but we drove with them anyway. We chatted about the weekend, the students, and Canadian food, why Canadians put gravy on perfectly good French fries, etc. I learned about Tim Horton, the Canadian Ambassador to the United States.
Suddenly a strange creature lumbered in front of the truck, weaving back and forth like a drunken wind-up toy. I slammed on the brakes and threw it into park, and both Jodie and I jumped out of the car to investigate. We didn’t bother to pull over, but we did bother to put on the hazard flashers.
What we discovered was a pathetic looking creature. It was a baby raccoon, its head firmly lodged in a peanut butter jar. Through the translucent but brownish-tinted plastic we could see terrified eyes and more than a hint of exhaustion. As he tried to climb the curb he hit it over and over with his jar, and he looked shell-shocked, as if he had been crossing back and forth across the street for hours, trying to escape his oily prison. His ears were caught behind a slight narrowing of the jar, and there was no way for him to pull it off. He needed help.
Jodie tried to grab him but he hissed and scratched as I looked for some work gloves in the back of the truck. We found none, so Jodie took off his sweatshirt, protected his hands, and lunged. Screams filled the peanut butter jar. You’d think we were trying to shove his head into the jar, not pull it out. I tried to grab the jar and pull but Jodie was getting the worst of the little claws. So we tried Plan B.
Jodie swooped down like a dancer, grabbed the jar and continued to spin in a circle, the centrifugal force keeping the raccoon kit away from his hands. After three or four spins, Jodie flicked his wrist a little, like a shot putter, and out spun the little raccoon, rolling across the grass. He sat up, looked at us, and I have never seen a more pathetic looking creature. His head was brown and matted with dried Jif, and it would take a lot of maternal care to restore his head to something that resembled a raccoon again.
After a few seconds he rambled off, a little dehydrated but probably none the worse for wear, hoping to find his mother. We jumped back in the car and resumed out airport shuttle. The whole thing might have taken two minutes.
A few months later Jodie and I were visiting on the phone. He is a Sunday School teacher at his small church, and loves to teach the children using stories, which is, after all, the best way to teach children, or adults for that matter. Jodie told them the story of the peanut butter jar and the raccoon kit.
He told his kids that we get our heads stuck in peanut butter jars all the time. Maybe we’re greedy, like the raccoon kit, sticking our noses where they don’t belong. Maybe we’re foolish, taking advice from others who tell us that sticking our heads in jars is a load of laughs. As silly and pathetic as the raccoon appeared to us, I am sure we appear just as pathetic to each other sometimes. And just like the raccoon, we need someone to grab us, hold us down and swing us around while we scream bloody murder until our head pops out of the jar and we run off covered in peanut butter, cursing the person who helped us get unstuck.
I’ve had several people in my life grab me by the peanut butter jar and give me a spin, and I’m thankful for them. One of them is my wife, who I adore more than a raccoon adores peanut butter.
And that, apparently, is a lot.