I almost got stuck in a worry this morning.
I was in my car, driving to an appointment for a medical test.
I started imagining doom and gloom.
But about five seconds into the worry, I shook my head. Literally shook it.
And forced myself to get stuck in something else.
I quickly looked around for a prompt.
Once, not too long ago, the winding hills of the Galilee would have been enough to move me. The goats and shepherd along the road. The fields lined with greens ready to be picked.
But not today. The scenery didn’t do it for me.
Like a Freudian free association exercise, I quickly reminded myself how happy I was only three weeks ago to be driving at all.
Feel it! I told myself. Feel the gratitude just to be driving with a real, certified driver’s license.
Nope. Didn’t feel it.
Next, taking a page out of my friend Andra’s “First Times” series of blog posts, I tried to turn my attention to more than two decades ago when I first got my American driver’s license and when I finally had a car of my own. Tried to imagine myself 17, alone, on the open road, without a grownup.
Surely memories of my youth would move something inside of me, I thought.
And, indeed, something started to stir.
The worry moved aside for a minute. But the “something” wasn’t quite strong enough to overpower the worry.
Then in an instant, in the mysterious way memory works, I remembered a “first time” that would move me from worry to joy.
I was 23.
I had just moved to New York City from Washington, D.C. where I had studied.
I was living, at the time, with a bunch of girls in a dorm room at NYU to take part in the university’s Summer Publishing Institute.
That day — the one my memory drifted to this morning– was a typical stifling hot summer day in NYC in 1997. Extra stifling in the subway system.
There’s a long underground hallway at Times Square/Port Authority that takes you from what was then the 1-2-3 line to the A-C-E. The walls were peppered with advertisements, of course. But hanging from the ceiling was a series of signs…an art installation geared towards the walking commuters. It apparently still hangs today.
The series starts with one word:
I remember being 23 and noticing those signs and having an out of body experience a la Steve Martin in LA Story.
“Are those signs talking to me?” I wondered.
I paused and considered what the signs were saying. Who they were speaking to.
And in my head, to the imaginary voice or to myself, I answered.
“I’m not tired at, all. In fact, I feel more alive than ever!” I thought.
Those signs were clearly speaking to some very sad and sorry grownups — not me! — who were already tired from life.
I laughed out loud.
It suddenly occurred to me that I was a grownup!
“I can’t believe I am a grown up,” I thought. “This is IT. I am officially a grownup.”
My self-talk continued:
“Here I am. In this subway station. Underground. Alone. On my own. Nobody here knows me. I can do or be anything I want. No one can tell me who to be or what to do anymore. I am an adult.”
I remember this as the exact moment I felt adult.
I remember a combination of terror and joy.
But mostly joy.
I wanted to dance around the room.
I was free!
Free to live my life!
Instead dancing, I just smiled.
I smiled at the strangers. The tired ones. The ones wondering, “Why bother?”
I felt sorry for their malaise, but I walked underground between 7th and 8th Avenues with a lighter step and a huge smile on my face.
“I am a grownup!” My smile said. “Just try and tell me what to do!”
The fragments of that smile remain today, sitting in the back of my throat, waiting for worry.
And I accessed that smile today and the emotions behind it.
On my own (!)
I can do or be anything I want!!!
I laughed at myself, then
and at life.
At how funny life is.
At how funny humans are.
Fragments of a smile became a true smile of joy as I realized I was free.