It’s a simple idea, with which I’ve been dancing for a long time now. Every time I think I’m done with the idea, that my explorations have ended, that I’ve learned all I can, three things happen.
First, I get stuck, begin to feel old, and convinced that I’ve missed my opportunity to even find, let alone live, my dreams, my truth. I get, if not clinically depressed, what passes for a good imitation of it.
Second, I get impatient. I do everything I can think of to change the mood, but there is a certain strain of this stuckness that doesn’t respond to anything but what one mentor of mine used to call “compound essence of time.” I know I must wait it out, meanwhile doing the best that I can to focus on what, and who, matters.
Every flow has an ebb. I know this, but that doesn’t make me hate the ebbs any less.
Third, a moment comes that I recognize as a turning point. I don’t really know if there have been other moments that could have been turnings, but that I missed because I wasn’t paying attention. In the end it doesn’t matter.
Last night I had such a moment.
A characteristic of such moments, I’ve noticed, is that they often seem fated, a series of unlikely events that come together in an improbable way. Once again, whether such moments are truly fated or simply seem that way doesn’t matter.
I flew on business to Omaha. Flights were running late due to weather, but somehow, despite a 35 minute late start, the plane landed almost exactly on the original schedule.
Because of that, it was early enough that I took the time to stop at one of my favorite places for a quick bite.
Because of that, the timing of my stop at Walgreen’s on the way to the hotel, to pick up a couple of things I needed, was about an hour later than it would have been if I’d gone straight there without stopping to eat.
Because of that, when I happened to stop in the aisle with the wine, there was a woman there who, had the timing been different, probably wouldn’t have been.
Because of that, I had a conversation that I didn’t expect to have.
And because of that, I paid attention in a way that I might not have otherwise.
It was a strange encounter.
As I was looking at the wine, she spoke. I didn’t look at her.
She asked me if I ever shopped at Trader Joe’s for wine, told me about a wine she gets there at the Christmas holidays, about how this past year there weren’t as many bottles as there usually are. I didn’t look at her, and I – rudely – didn’t respond to her. A part of me was diagnosing, analyzing (in other words, doing the things that I tell people I don’t do except professionally). I recognized my reaction as a defense, a move to maintain the illusion of invulnerability.
(This, by the way, is why I wonder if there were other moments that could have been turning points, because even now I realize that I came very close to walking away without ever having made contact. Were there others from whom I did walk away? It’s academic to wonder, I know, impossible to determine, but it’s something I wonder about anyway.)
She told me I was a handsome man. I felt embarrassed, weirded out, wondered why this woman who look so, well, old and just plain weird would say something like that to me. By now I’d taken a surreptitious glance, but hadn’t yet engaged.
She asked if she could touch my hand. I said no, I wasn’t comfortable with that. Now I was really weirded out.
Then she told me a bit of her story.
She told me she knew she must seem odd, but that she was a cancer survivor, and that it had changed her. She said her husband had died, and she missed him. A few years later she was diagnosed with cancer, and she was ready to go. She gave away her things, left her few possessions to a few people she knew, and prepared to die.
She said, “And then I started to pray for all the people who were taking care of me, for all those others who were sick in the hospital. I stopped thinking about myself. And then I got better.”
She’d been ready to die, she repeated, but here she was. I looked at her. I saw she had on a bad wig, could see she was likely quite bald under it.
I said what popped into my mind. “Welcome to your life.”
She told me that she now asks to touch people, because she prays for everyone she touches. “It’s just what I do.”
She asked again.
I gave her my hand.
She said, “Oh, you bring such healing to the world.” Both her hands were on my left hand, but she was touching my heart.
She asked me what I did for a living, and I told her I was a psychologist by training. I didn’t add anything else about what I currently do. She nodded, smiled, said she thought I must be good at that. Told me about her niece who’d been helped by a psychologist when she was very depressed.
She thanked me. I said again, “Welcome to your life.”
I meant it.
But now I’m not altogether sure whether I was talking to her, or to me.
Dr Les Kertay, Awakened Moments