Daniel J. Cleary

A Dip in Serenity

I had a landlord who was a recovering heroin addict. He lived on the second floor of the house he owned, and I lived below him, in a rather seedy part of the east side of Cleveland. He used to stop by to chat occasionally, check the plumbing, collect the rent, et cetera. So we got to know one another pretty well.

One day, when Will stopped by for a social visit, I vented to him about my teaching jobs.

“I’m driving back and forth between three different colleges right now, and I barely make enough to pay the damn rent.”

“Listen, Danny,” Will said, starting to get 12-steppy on me--as he sometimes did. “Do you see what this says?” He pointed to an emblem on his t-shirt. “One day, a couple years back, I was driving between painting jobs, and I started thinking about using. So I pulled into a thrift store, just to keep my mind occupied, and I spotted this shirt. ‘Serenity.’ It was exactly what I needed at that moment, and I stayed clean that day.”

Now, if Will’s shirt actually had the word “serenity” embossed on it, I would have been moved by his sincerity and amazed at the seemingly miraculous nature of this find. However, because the word on the t-shirt was “serendipity”—and since I didn’t have the heart to point out his misreading to him—his story meant nothing to me.

Less than a year after I moved out of Will’s house, he fell off the wagon and, long story short, is now doing life in prison for murder. I wish he had truly found serenity in that thrift store. Instead he just found serendipity. Serendipitously.