My reel mower

In the last half of 2012, when the world was coming to an end and everything I owned was falling apart, I experienced one loss that brought me great joy. I was mowing the lawn and hit a patch of thick grass near the property line by Mrs. Dim’s house–Mrs. Dim waters her grass almost every day, even when it rains–and the mower engine died and would not start again. It may sound strange that I was glad to see my lawnmower die, but this breakdown gave me the chance to buy something I had wanted for several years: a reel lawnmower.

For the uninitiated, a reel lawnmower operates on neither gasoline nor electricity. It is powered only by the strength of a human body. As the mower is pushed forward, the turning of the wheels sends a reel spinning, and that reel consists of several sharp blades that cut the grass.

It was late in the mowing season, and none of the stores in town had reel mowers in stock. I had to order my mower online and wait a week for it to arrive. By that time, the grass had gotten pretty high, and the first two mowings were hard to do. After that the mowing got easier, and I loved my reel mower.

A reel mower is quieter than the typical gasoline lawn mower. One can actually hear the birds sing while cutting grass with a reel mower. A reel mower also does not burn any gasoline. Less noise pollution and less air pollution-what’s not to love? Leaving more gasoline supply for other purposes, I saw the price of gasoline drop a nickel each week for a month once I started using my reel mower. Of course I take all the credit, and imagine what would happen to the price of gasoline if everyone used a reel mower. Besides, my doctor wanted me to get more exercise, and mowing with a reel mower was just the ticket for more exercise.

Already I had been raking leaves instead of blowing them. Already I had been using a hand tool to trip the grass along the sidewalk instead of using a power tool. Now I had the best improvement of all: a reel lawn mower that was quiet, energy efficient, and provided me with weekly exercise. Since the reel mower was not hard to start, I didn’t mind taking a break for rest and a drink of water while mowing. I didn’t mind mowing different parts of the property on different days instead of rushing to get the week’s mowing done on the same day. I didn’t mind mowing at all, except for the times that the neighbors got out their loud smelly mowers while I was enjoying the day with my reel mower.

My mother and father said they remembered using a reel mower when they were young. Mrs. Dim said the same thing. Clearly, none of them understood why I would take a step backwards in technology. They could not grasp the goodness of a quiet mower that had no carbon footprint. Yes, I was smug about my reel mower.

Of course no change is perfectly good. The reel mower jammed when it hit twigs that the gasoline-powered mower could effortlessly grind to pieces. Various bolts had to be adjusted every two or three weeks to keep the reel mower operating efficiently, and the instructions that came with the mower were not very clear about what to adjust. I had to teach myself by trial and error. Worst of all, the handle of the reel mower was made from thin metal. Before the reel mower was a year old, the handle had broken, and I had to fix it and reinforce it to have a working mower.

The next summer, the handle broke again, and this time no repair I tried would hold. For a while I struggled to make the reel mower work, but meanwhile the grass was getting longer. Finally, I threw in the towel, drove to the hardware store, and bought another loud gasoline-consuming monster. I’m sure that Mrs. Dim was happy to hear the mighty roar once again. My weekly mowing takes less time, even if it does not provide as much beneficial exercise. But I miss my reel mower, and someday I hope to find a way to get a good strong handle attached to it again.

J.

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One thousand days of darkness

It seems that the Mayans were right. They predicted that the world would end in December 2012. (OK—I know that they did not really predict that. Play along with me here.) They only missed by a few weeks. I guess it was obvious to them that the ending should take place at the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. To come so close to the actual end so many centuries before the actual event is incredibly accurate prognostication.

The second half of 2012 would have been rotten for me even without a Mayan prediction. Murphy’s Gremlins were unusually busy from the end of the summer through the autumn. Automobile breakdowns required towing and expensive repairs, computers failed and needed to be replaced, appliances broke down and needed repairs, and all of this cost money. I am still paying interest to the credit card companies because of the bills that had to be paid at that time.

But money is only money. When the darkness fell, it was about more than mere dollars and cents. Gradually, increasingly, nothing seemed right with the world. Life had lost its meaning. Existence was just a matter of getting from one day to the next.

I had been through dark times before. When I was in school, there were weeks when I was discouraged and the whole business of life seemed pointless. Somehow, without anybody’s help, I pulled through those times and kept on going. Later, when work got busy and did not let up, I felt the darkness again. One friend sent me a box of chocolate which helped—the thoughtfulness and the candy both brought cheer. As the years went by, I noticed that December and Christmas always had their layer of gloom, and I considered the possibility that I had developed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I fought back with Vitamin D pills and exercise. Somehow I survived.

Then came a time when I was riding a wave of success. My writing was getting published, and I was making public appearances, even on television. Other people were interested in what I had to say. I wondered at times how long the good feelings would last and how bad the crash would be when it came. For more than a year, life seemed to be good, and I was basking in the sunshine with pleasure.

The crash happened. The good feelings fled. I was left with a sense of irretrievable loss. When I thought things might be improving, they failed to improve. Songs on the radio reminded me how miserable I was. I was able to write about it, and that helped a little, but only a little. It seemed that the sun had gone out of my life forever.

I handled my depression poorly. I self-medicated by drinking, which of course only made things worse. Finally, after two years of darkness, I was honest with my family doctor about what was happening inside me. He started me on medication, and I also began counseling. Finally, after a lifetime of struggle, I was able to admit that I am anxious and depressed and cannot handle these afflictions on my own.

Are things better today? In some ways, yes. The medicine and the counseling are helping. Progress is happening. I am aware of people who struggle with far greater afflictions than mine. After all, I have not missed a day of work through this time of darkness. I have kept it hidden from most of those who see me several times a week.

Today marks one thousand days of darkness. I cannot say that the darkness ends at one thousand days; there may be a day one thousand and one. With God’s help, though, I am stronger than all this garbage. I can and I should pull through and find my way into the light again.

J.