I fall into the demographic that HBO makes hit television shows about…
I’m single, thirty-something, relatively self-actualized and at the center of my universe right now are my friends—the friends who have become family and who are there no matter what. No matter how many times I willingly subject myself to heartache while they look on protectively. No matter how many times I change jobs and they live through the honeymoon phase and the seven year itch. No matter how many times I mistake cayenne for paprika and serve up a steaming hot paella so spicy it singes our taste buds.
My earlier years were a quest for my one overriding need: stability. In my twenties, I thought that stability was to be found in one man. My thirties have been an opportunity to learn that one man may not be the panacea of stability that fairy tales taught the child-me to believe. My thirties have been an opportunity to learn that men may come and go, but my friends are the sun around which my world orbits.
Last week, I came home to a shock. My roommate (same demographics) standing by the back door of our home (affectionately known as the Little Green House) in an uncharacteristically highly emotional state… half laughing, half crying and making a noise that might be described as wailing. She had gone into the backyard to do a chore and discovered a dead turtle.
Yes, a dead turtle. ……
“With the Human Library, it’s a one-on-one experience and that kind of storytelling, from person to person, does harken back to centuries and centuries ago when a story was the only way to learn,” says Anne Marie Aikins, TPL’s manager of corporate communications. “It’s an old technology.”
Huh. In the little shrunken “preview” version of this, I thought it said:
Rad decisions make good stories.
I kinda like my version better.
I was rear-ended right before Thanksgiving, so am still keeping my eye on the rear-view mirror just a little bit more than usual, when I drive. While headed southbound on 509, a blue truck came up behind me with what looked like a huge white statue of a bull in the truck bed. His horns, even in my rear-view mirror, were unmistakably bovine.
The truck passed me, and sure enough, my eyes weren’t playing tricks. The truck bore the name Barry’s BBQ. Underneath the spot where there would be a tail on a real bull was a built-in power strip, with multiple outlets. Now I’m going to have to take a field trip to Auburn to ask Barry why his bull has electrical outlets in his butt.
The police car raced up behind me as I started across the bridge. I slowed down in the right lane to give them the entire left lane to pass. I watched with the frustration of someone who grew up in a small town as the other city drivers didn’t move over, and didn’t allow the police car to pass.
It was about twenty seconds of driving before I caught up to the police car parked along the railing of the bridge, one officer stepping out of the driver’s side and one officer stepping out of the passenger side. The part of my brain that operates based on facts took note of the officers walking slowly forward, toward a small car parked on the bridge, toward a woman with a ponytail and a purple sweater on, both hands and her right foot up on the bridge’s railing; her left foot on the bridge deck.
The “what the fuck was that” part of my brain kicked in before the “I don’t want to know” part, but in the end the “maybe I’m not cut out for living in a city” part was the day’s winner.
I presume that she, and the two officers, and any other passerby are safe and sound somewhere warm and full of healing tonight. In my imagination, I see her climbing back onto the bridge deck, and squatting down low to rest her back against the bridge barrier… feeling the firm surface of the bridge deck under both of her feet and the safety of the barrier pressing against her back… her head resting in her hands, adjusting to the reality of the moment, and planning the very next step of the many steps that will make up the rest of her life. And if that isn’t what happened, then in my imagination, under the back of her sweater, she had hidden wings and flew.
I’m in the OC today, where even the airport looks a little too new and shiny to be real… the schedule was a little too close for a wandery approach to lunch, and the hotel restaurant is too expensive even if my company feeds me. I popped across the street for a quick sandwich.
On entering the shop, the man at the counter smiled broadly and greeted me. I smiled broadly back, and ordered my sandwich. He smiled more broadly, and said, with far more warmth than in a typical human interaction,
“You have a nice smile.”
The only possible response, it seems, when someone compliments my smile, is for me to smile larger.
That delighted the man… who asked my name, and then complimented me on my “very good name.”
I had a momentary flashback at the keyword phrase “good name.” So many of my interactions in Nepal last year began with the simple question, “What is your good name?” And, to this day, those words are like a red pill that instantly transports me to a faraway place.
I thought also of so many years ago, before I’d ever traveled outside the US, when I was a regular at a Thai restaurant near my old office. Over a long number of visits, I grew fond of Chai, the restaurant’s host. One dinnertime, in an unusual candid exchange, Chai said, “With a smile like yours, you must go to Thailand. There, everybody smiles. Here, nobody smiles. No one there would believe that you’re an American.”
But, I snapped myself back to reality and the present. Orange County and the sandwich-maker. He went on — mostly to himself, and perhaps a little to me — “What a nice smile. You are a good person,” as he handed me my sandwich. ”See you tomorrow, Sara… very nice smile,” he said, as I turned to head out of the shop.
As I walked back across the sleep to my temporary overnight home, memories of the close openness of the trekking life flooded back to me. I’ve always had thinner boundaries, when it comes to meeting and connecting with people… I am quick with honesty, and I have a difficult time not answering peoples’ questions openly (or, more accurately, I’m completely unskilled at it).
I am two cliches in one sentence: I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I am a totally open book.
Somehow, those characteristics that sometimes make me so out of place here “at home” help me feel so very “at home” when I am away. I am at my most at home in far away, wild places where I’m surrounded by other curious, unhurried people moving at the pace of their own heartbeats or the rhythm of the sunrise and sunset.
I could have argued with the sandwich-maker, that just because I have a “nice smile,” doesn’t mean that I am a “good person.” But what would that achieve? And really, I’d rather just accept both compliments as they are. Perhaps the sandwich-man can tell who is a good person based on their smile. Who am I to argue, or judge?
This morning I worked an event, and while putting up my pop up tent, something else popped too… my neck. Ordinarily, I’d just boulder something like that out, but my back’s reaction to that little pop triggered the “get thee to the chiropractor ASAP” alarm in my brain.
After work, I packed up and then headed for my hotel to see if I could check in early. Mikaila at the Hilton Eugene (Priceline roulette WIN!) checked me in, and I asked if she knew of any chiropractors open on Saturdays. She made a phone call, got a “no,” and said she’d call around and let me know what she found out. I hit Yelp and Facebook and Twitter, with no luck myself.
Before I’d even put my keycard in the door of my room, Mikaila called to tell me she’s found a place that was open and could see me, but that it was in Veneta. 20-ish miles west… no problem. I drive for a living. I dropped my bags and headed for Veneta — blown away not only that Mikaila had offered to call around; but doubly blown away that she called around enough to actually get me an appointment.
I set out for Veneta, and once on Highway 126, started to see signs for Florence.
Florence: 56 miles.
That meant I was a mere 56 miles away from the Pacific Ocean when I saw that sign.
I thought about that fact while the chiropractor got me back in line, and then decided that the whole thing had been a happy accident to allow me to go visit my old friend, the Pacific Ocean, today during my afternoon off.
My drive took me down new roads I haven’t driven before, to a destination I’d passed through many times. I basked in the fall glitter of orange and gold leaves against the grey, storm-coming sky. With the phone off, the radio off, the GPS off and no way to get lost, I drove up and down twisties, through replanted clearcuts, to the flat that precedes the coastline. I thought back on a years ago conversation with my friend Andrew, about his theory that looking out over the vastness of the ocean opens our minds.
At Florence, I turned north, aiming for Haceta Beach and a view of the ocean itself. When I caught my first glimpse of the surf, it caught my breath. You would think after 34 years of occasional visits, there would be no surprise left … it’s just sand, and logs, and water, and seabirds. But the vastness… the knowing, that it all just goes on forever… out to somewhere distant where the objects of my maybe-in-a-past-life-ornithologist crush — the albatross — fly their massive migrations. Those seabirds even put my annual mileage to shame.
I love being in constant motion… I can’t imagine living any other way. The tradeoff is that with how much I am on the road, I am away from my friends and family much more than I like. The interactions I have with the hotel staff, my breakfast waitress, the salesgirl in a shop I pop into, and the people I connect with through work are richer, for missing the people I love. Those interactions are warmer, because for me, warmth must come from somewhere.
The quote “Work is love made visible” is attributed to Khalil Gibran; unless I’m remembering incorrectly, the variation “Work is love made real” appears on one of my favorite greeting cards. I interact with people every day, who through their work, make love real. And every time I see that, or am the lucky beneficiary of it, I am grateful for the lesson.
This evening, I am nestled into my hotel room… my hair a mess of tangles from the ocean winds, the scent of seagrass and salt and vastness still in my nose, and sand in the stitching of my boots. All thanks, in large part, to the small kindness that Mikaila did for me this morning. Now that’s customer service.