We were backing out of the garage, the car lights briefly illuminating the darkened walls and floor.
“Mom,” cried my 3-year-old daughter, strapped into her car seat behind me. “I just saw a mouse.”
We lived in Alaska, in a house with plenty of cracks and nooks. Almost every year, we’d catch one mouse. Elizabeth was an astute little observer of life, and I trusted her eyesight. She was probably right, but then she added something funny.
“Or maybe it was fish,” she said hesitantly of the silvery creature she’d seen darting beyond the headlights.
OK, Elizabeth, someday you’ll play Trivial Pursuit and the advice will be: Go with your first gut instinct as it’s probably the right one. But your “cover all my bases” moment would provide fodder for family stories later, the kind that begin, “Remember the time …”
I think we all have our “or maybe it was a fish” moments. We don’t want to be wrong so we raise every possibility, we mull over every excuse, before we trust our gut and go with it.
Every day, we all have moments when an impulse tells us something is the right thing to do. Sometimes you only have a second to decide whether to intervene or say a word or help out, like the people who rushed to help others at the Boston bombing. When we have to act on our first instinct, ultimately we’re either proud of what we did, or wish we had the moment to do over.
But sometimes we have more time to react to an impulse toward good, and those are the times we sometimes cloud with a “maybe it was a fish” moment. Obviously, I’m talking about good impulses. If someone in the grocery line cuts in front of you and your first impulse is to shove them, learn to count to 10.
But I’m talking about those impulses that the better angels of our human nature whisper in our ear, the ones that seem clear right before I start making excuses or naming other possibilities. I’m talking about those impulses that I get enthusiastic about, before “I don’t have time” or “I don’t want to get involved” show up, slippery and elusive as a goldfish on a garage floor.
Often, good impulses need reflection and prayer before action. But they should never be ignored or brushed aside. Procrastination is the enemy of good impulses.
Has your good angel nudged you to get involved with a political issue? Have you been intending to take your children to visit a soup kitchen? Is the sacrament of reconciliation on indefinite hold for you despite your gut feeling that you need it? Is there an elderly relative you’ve been neglecting, or someone with whom you need to reconcile?
Have you ignored the impulse to get involved with a parish committee? Did you intend to take the new neighbors cookies, and now they’ve been next door two years?
Sometimes, the right thing comes to us in a flash, like a mouse darting before our headlights and then disappearing into the blackness, and we must quickly choose whether to act. At other times, we have the luxury of praying that our inspiration is a good one. Don’t let that moment of inspiration drift away. Write it down. Pray about it. Then just do it. Sometimes, you’ve got to call a mouse a mouse.
We did capture a little mouse in the days after Elizabeth’s eye caught a figure darting through the headlight’s glare. Stick with your gut, Elizabeth. You were right the first time.