Gary Tetz

Every week in an appropriately masked and distanced team meeting, my esteemed colleagues and I are each asked to share a moment of joy we’ve recently experienced. Before getting into an agenda of often darker and heavier long-term care matters, we find it helps to remember these scattered rays of sunshine, and to be forced to say them out loud. Though as a Canadian, I’m technically forbidden by law to reveal actual human emotion, I’ve been making an exception. Please don’t report me.

Admittedly, sometimes I’m stretching to think of something to share, and end up citing trivial joys like a Seahawks win or the taste of a slice of sourdough. But this week, the task was easy. 

The tale I told my coworkers harkened back to a challenging, multi-mile hike I’d recently taken on the flanks of Mt. Rainier, the 14,411-foot active volcano that smolders in Washington state. 

Things started ominously — before leaving the trailhead I was stopped by a ranger who commanded me unequivocally not to take Dead Horse Trail. It seems like the name itself would have been an adequate deterrent, but apparently an angry bear had been spotted on it protecting her two cubs. So I nodded, obeyed and began to climb, ascending the famous Skyline Trail into the heart of some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever witnessed.

Not that I was paying much attention to such things. First my camera, the heavy one I shouldn’t have brought, suddenly stopped working, and then I took an upsetting phone call that could have been left for voicemail. Since the device was already in my hand, I figured I might as well check my email too. So dropping my backpack on the ground, I slumped sullenly onto a trailside rock, appreciating nothing and annoyed by everything. 

“Put yourself in the way of beauty,” suggests Cheryl Strayed, the author of “Wild.” But that day, beauty could have run me over with a Sherman tank and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.  

“Looks like you’ve got a friend,” said a voice suddenly breaking my gloom, and I looked up to see a fellow hiker stabbing the air in my direction with one of her trekking poles. 

“Huh?” I cleverly responded.

“Look right there, beside you!” she pointed again. Glancing down and to the right, my eyes met those of a tiny chipmunk who had scampered silently up onto my backpack. He stared back at me with puzzlement, as though I was a space alien or jungle missionary. 

Moving slowly, I fired off a few selfies with my phone, and captured entirely by accident what has become my favorite self-portrait of all time (see above). I plan to make it my permanent social media avatar, and hereby request that it also be enlarged and placed on an easel at my funeral. I will also expect the chipmunk to deliver my eulogy. 

I don’t know what benevolent cosmic entity sent him to my rescue that sunny, summer day, but I saw a lot more beauty after his visit. In the space of about five seconds, I moved from petty and oblivious annoyance to pure, unabashed joy. Or as close as I can get to that, as a Canadian. 

In this challenging profession, in this endless pandemic, in this unstable world, we simply have to cling to those moments whenever we can, and then shout about them from the rooftops. And thankfully, even when we’re the least open and accepting, joy will still find a way to pop up next to us and say, “Look! You’ve got a friend!”

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.