This morning I woke up in a Motel 6 somewhere in Pennsylvania.
After throwing on whatever pieces of clothing were closest to the bed, I walked across the parking lot barefoot to get my fill of predictably mediocre coffee, and realized that I locked myself out. Great!
Troy, a friendly guy working at the front desk, seems sympathetic to my lack of cognitive skills pre-caffeine, and hands me another card.
I manage to open the door without spilling the coffee, take off my pants (obviously) and settle in bed for a few hours of work.
Have you ever caught yourself doing something, or saying something, that stopped you in your tracks? Doing or saying something that a person you’ve always wanted to be might be doing?
I’ve been collecting these moments. They are precious. They are like breadcrumbs on the path to… I don’t know… enlightenment? Probably not.
All I know is that these moments tell you that you are headed in the right direction – direction where you are more likely to encounter rainbows, unicorns and single-origin coffee beans, and not shadows, shame and fake cheese.
In my previous life as a college professor, I used to give my students an assignment of a 30-day trial – they were to initiate a behavioral change (either start or stop something), and carry it out for the entire 30 days.
One student chose quitting smoking. While I applauded his choice, I was skeptical. That’s a tough one. Yet… he made it. Thirty days. Not a single cigarette.
It gets better. He actually continued NOT to smoke for the rest of that semester. Two months. Three months. Four months.
I heard from him at the end of the year. He told me a story that simultaneously warmed my heart AND made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Earlier that week, he saw some friends, as he was exiting an academic building. They were huddled around in a circle, smoking. As my former student was passing by, they called out to him, offering a cigarette. He didn’t slow down. “Thanks, I don’t smoke”, he caught himself saying.
And then it hit him. He didn’t smoke. He fucking did not smoke!!! The words escaped his lips before he realized what he was saying, and they rang true. Identity shift… complete.
Years ago, I found myself opening the last of the letters from the graduate schools I applied to. Another rejection. ALL rejections.
Bawling my eyes out, I had to get my shit together, get dressed and leave to the above mentioned college to change lives, and all that. And I didn’t even have lunch yet. And, so wiping snot on my forearm, and trying to blink through the blur of moisture, I started throwing spinach into the blender to make myself a green smoothie for the road. And then I stopped.
A green smoothie? Seriously? Identity shift… complete.
My little barefoot walk in search of mediocre coffee at Motel 6 was one of those moments.
You see, I had this amazing “holy shit, I can’t believe I am doing what I am doing” realization few weeks ago. Waiting to board a flight to a conference, I learned that my airline oversold the seats, and now not everyone actually may have a seat, and would someone please please volunteer to fly to a different city instead, where we’ll put that person up in a hotel, fly them to the correct destination AND give them a bunch of cash for their troubles? Oh, and it would really help if they did not have any checked luggage.
Not a big deal. This happens all the time. Yet, I have never before been THE KIND OF PERSON, who not only travels without checked luggage, but is also flexible enough to shrug, and say “Meh, why the fuck not?”, and head over to the counter to volunteer.
I’ve always wanted to be her. I’ve made oh-so-many choices in the last ten years to hopefully be her one day. And then, I was her. Without warning. Without fanfare. Just… was.
It’s not about the coffee. It’s not about the cigarettes. It’s not about the smoothie, the graduate school, the rejection letters, the checked luggage.
It’s about what those moments represent.
I am not free from all demons. Perhaps, I never will be. But, it’s intoxicating, this freedom thing.
P.S. Oh, and I’m still a bit of a rolling stone. And I still leave to find the answer on the road.