Wandering and Belonging

Sunday morning, we take our time leaving Columbus.  We have all day to get home and nothing on our calendar.  We decide to stop at the Wildflower Cafe for breakfast before heading out of town.  We’re surprised by their almost empty parking lot at 10AM–there used to always be a line by this time.  I wonder if the fact that they’re now open for dinner has diluted their breakfast and lunch crowd.

I think about having a small, healthy breakfast.  Something my body would much appreciate after nearly a week of a “see-food” diet.  However, I have a hard time resisting the eggs benedict on their Sunday brunch menu.  And while I’m at it, I might as well have their potatoes, which are sliced thin and pan-fried to a nice crisp brown on the edges.  I tell myself I’ll start eating healthy again tomorrow.  I laugh at my optimism–seems like I’ve been telling myself that for many months now.

After stuffing ourselves and trying not to drink so much coffee that I have to stop every 15 minutes, we take turns using the restroom before getting on the road.  I don’t feel like a visitor today even though we’re about to leave–the owner recognized us when we came in and the restaurant is just so familiar.  It feels like there’s been a time warp and we never really went anywhere.  But, as we head out the door, the prospect of a long drive looms before us and I feel like a visitor again.

Pat drives and I write.  But I am not feeling prolific today.  I suddenly realize that we will have only 3 days at home before we’ll be packing again for our Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Smokies.  We’ve decided to spend the long weekend at a lodge we discovered on the way home from Great Smoky Mountain National Park over Labor Day weekend.  Originally, Pat’s family was going to come down to see us for Thanksgiving.  Then, Pat’s sister was going to join, so the date changed to when she could be gone from the store she manages (which is not Thanksgiving weekend).  Unfortunately, she couldn’t travel on a date when we didn’t have a commitment, so she went to Youngstown instead and the rest of the family decided not to come for Thanksgiving.

It occurs to me that while Thanksgiving has been the holiday we spent with my husband’s family vs my own for many years, this will be the first time in my life I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving without getting together with any family members.

I stop musing and start talking to Pat about our upcoming plans.  We are both looking forward to the mountain lodge–a mere two hour drive instead of an 11 hour drive to Pat’s family’s house.  I find myself wondering if we should have stayed in Columbus a few more days and then driven up to Youngstown for Thanksgiving, though.  We need to think more about how to get together with Pat’s family now that the drive is so much further.  It’s hard for us to stay in Columbus that many days, but it’s easier than trying to work from Youngstown.

In any case, this coming weekend, we will be in the Smokies enjoying the mountains and relaxing.  I am looking forward to the relaxing part as we haven’t really done a lot of that lately.  To ensure I can really relax while we’re there, I am working on writing blog entries ahead of time.  That way, I can have all my blog posts scheduled to run without me and I don’t have to worry about keeping up on my blog in case there is no internet access from there.

The drive flies by for me.  Between writing and napping and talking with Pat about his plans for his business, we seem to arrive in no time.  Pat, however, is stiff and sore having driven the entire way himself.  I feel guilty that I didn’t do any of the driving, but it did allow me to use the time productively.

We pull up in front of the entry to our building and unload the ridiculous amount of stuff from the van.  Even though I reduced my load by a couple of bags on the way out, Pat picked up a bunch of guitars while we were there, so our load looks vaguely reminiscent of moving day.

A neighbor comes in while we’re unloading and gives us a nasty look.  I’m not sure why, but it’s the same one that was irritated the day we were moving in because we had an elevator blocked.  Apparently she didn’t realize she could push the button and the other elevator would come and she stomped off with a big “huff” to the stairwell.  Another neighbor comes along with a friendly dog who I greet while Pat is parking the van.  When he returns, we load our stuff into the elevator and head upstairs.  I think to myself that we really ought to just invest in a cart if we’re gong to continue to do this on a regular basis.

We get unpacked and then head out to grab dinner.  We end up at Taco Mamacito’s because it’s close and decision-free.  We talk about our trip to Columbus and how much more enjoyable this trip was.  Besides having a get together with friends we haven’t seen in a year who came in from Seattle, we also enjoyed the pace of a Saturday vs a trip where it’s all weekday time.

I contemplate the impact of not having an assigned office at work anymore.  There is something freeing about it–like not having a door with your name next to it implies that no one is waiting for you to show up.  It feels, finally, like we really have moved and when we go to Columbus, we really are just visiting.  As we sit in this restaurant where at least half the wait staff recognizes us contemplating sleeping in our own bed tonight, we feel the sense of having returned home in a way that we haven’t felt here in Chattanooga before.  I find myself wondering how important wandering is compared to having a sense of belonging somewhere.

Visiting

Saturday, our last day in Columbus.  We have a full agenda today.  First, a visit with the world’s best doctor for me.  Then we are taking lunch to some friends who just had a new baby.  We will wrap up the day with dinner with another set of friends.  I pop out of bed an hour earlier than my alarm, already preparing in my sleep for our day.

Seeing my doctor is always a treat.  The only thing that would make it better is if we were meeting over coffee instead of in her office.  But, this way I get to see her and get a minor issue addressed at the same time.  I suppose it’s somewhat odd to be friends with your doctor, but I’m not sure why.  Who better to trust with your health care than someone who genuinely cares about you?

After my appointment, Pat picks me up and we head to City Barbecue.  We are running ahead of schedule.  We decide to go to the grocery store first and pick up a few things for our hosts that we have been consuming.  Then, we go back towards City Barbecue, still ahead of schedule.  We decide it may take several minutes to get our order together, so we go ahead and go in.  We order a family pack, but can’t decide on only two sides, so we add two more.  When our order comes, each side is packed in a 1 quart container.  We have enough sides for about 32 people.   You can never have enough sides.

We arrive at our friends house, still a few minutes ahead of schedule.  It never fails that all the lights are green when you need to slough off time.  We even took the slower, back way to get there.  Sara is home with both children.  Geoff is not yet back from a grocery store run.

Sara greets us at the door with Lella cradled in her arms.  Her tiny pumpkin head perfectly round against her mother’s arm.  I am surprised to find myself pleased to see her.  While I’m never going to be one of those people who swoops in and snatches the baby out of mom’s arms and goos and gah’s over it, paying no attention to anything other than the baby for hours on end, I feel less afraid of appreciating the baby.  I think that in my younger years I felt like I had to reject babies entirely in order to avoid any regrets about not having any of my own.  That somehow there was a threat that I might suddenly wish for one and my biological clock would click on and my relationship with my now husband would be threatened as a result.

Having recognized that I would not be the world’s best mother and subsequently decided that the world would be better off if I didn’t reproduce, I have not, as of yet, regretted that decision.  While there are times I think my life would feel more purposeful if I had children, I have a hard time imagining giving up on so many of the life experiences I have been able to have because I don’t have kids.  Now nearly 45, there is little possibility that I will suddenly awake and want to have a baby.

Today, instead of feeling repulsed by this tiny life, I am intrigued.  She is beautiful, this tiny Lella.  I like to say her name, “Lel-la.”  It rolls on my tongue and feels like “lullaby.”  It is both a soothing baby name and a strong adult name.  I am amazed that no one ever thought of it before (well, that I know of)

As Lella awakens and looks out upon the wide world before her, her eyes open, big and bright.  She appears to watch things across the room and I wonder how far she can see.  I remember being told infants can only see the distance from the breast to the face, but she looks so fascinated that I have to ask out loud.  Sara also believes she can only see about 18 inches.  Lella makes a fist, twists her face, kicks her legs and farts loudly.  Henry, her 4-year old brother, is not the only one who is amused.  We take her upstairs for a tour of the nursery and a diaper change.  I rub Lella’s head and make sure she doesn’t roll off the changing table while Sara looks for something.

I am reminded of a terrifying event in my early teen years when an infant I was babysitting kicked his diaper off the changing table and I bent down to pick it up.  The screaming infant, probably suffering from colic, kicked so hard in the instant I bent to pick up the diaper that he flopped off the table and landed on the floor at my feet.  I believe this was the first nail in the coffin of my desire to have children.  Fortunately, the baby was not seriously injured, but I stopped babysitting infants after that.

Today, I stand next to the changing table with my hand cupped over Lella’s head rubbing her fuzzy hair, relaxed and happy to have this moment to experience baby-ness.  I can’t say that I really want to fuss over this tiny infant all afternoon.  In fact, I occasionally forget about her as we eat lunch and talk of adult things, but it’s nice to at least feel at home around this tiny, fragile life and not feel afraid that my mere presence might in someway break it.

After hanging out for a few hours, we head on back to our host’s house.  We are already exhausted and it is not even 3PM yet when we arrived.  Pat heads upstairs for an afternoon nap while I sit and talk with Georgia in between games of solitaire.  I keep thinking I will doze for a while, but in the end I never do.  It’s just as well–when Pat wakes up, he seems groggy and disoriented.  A long afternoon nap will do that to you.  I smile as I look at his rumpled hair when he comes back downstairs.  Back up we go, smoothing ourselves and making ourselves presentable for our evening out.

Ah Ha

On Friday night, we have dinner with our hosts.  Our new tradition is to go to La Casita, a little Mexican joint on Bethel Rd that we all like.  Tonight, it’s hopping.  Gill, Pat, and I arrive first.  Gina will meet us there, coming directly from work.  It’s only 5:30PM when we arrive with the blue hair crowd. We have no trouble getting a table, but by the time Gina arrives, the restaurant is full.

We have our dinner and a round of margaritas.  Then, Gill and I, Gill having had no alcohol and me having consumed only 1/2 of my margarita in the past hour and a half, drive the two cars back while Gina and Pat order another round.  Gill drives the two of us back to the restaurant again and we return to our table to hang out until two friends Gina and I are meeting arrive.  We send Gill and Pat home when Vivienne and Andrea get there.  Gina and I are now free to indulge in margaritas knowing that Gill, who doesn’t drink, will safely get us home when we are ready.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time letting go of feeling like we’re inconveniencing others.  It’s Friday night and we have already occupied the table for 2 hours by the time our friends arrive.  I watch the crowd grow–standing at the door holding beepers–and try not to feel bad.  I am not sure if my conscientiousness when it comes to making people wait came from some childhood trauma or if it’s just normal politeness, but I seem to have honed in on “Thou Shalt Not Make Others Wait” in etiquette while I am simultaneously oblivious to many other basic rules of consideration.  So much so that things like sitting at a light for more than a split second after it turns green creates anxiety in me.

I had to learn early in my career not to be several minutes early to meetings because it not only wasted my time, but it made others think I didn’t have enough work to do.  Learning to be fashionably late to parties was another tough adjustment.  I’m still often the first to arrive.  This is a case where my impulse not to keep others waiting puts me in the awkward position of potentially inconveniencing the host by arriving before he or she is ready for guests.

In cases where I know the host well, I have made arrangements to come over early and help with prep just so I won’t have to go through this anxiety.  In cases where the host is an acquaintance, I have sat in my car contemplating which is more awkward:  to be the only person at the party or to be seen sitting outside in my car.  This led to the practice of drive-bys.

Tonight, when we decide to pay the check and start over when our friends arrive, I try to dispel my anxiety by tipping the waitress generously.  Apparently it wasn’t generous enough because she doesn’t seem to notice and I am still anxious.

Our friends arrive and I’m relieved that one of them orders food.  I order another margarita not because I want to drink it but just to try to run up our tab a bit.  When it comes, I take two sips and realize that I desperately need water, but I’m not about to ask for it.

After everyone has had their fill of food and beverages, we decide to head over to Vivienne’s house.  I tip the waitress more generously this time.  I do a calculation of what her total tips would have been had she turned the table over 2x with 4 people ordering entrees, which seems about right since we’ve now been there 3 1/2 hours.  Apparently I did my math correctly; this time she smiles at me and says thank you when she walks by after taking the checks.

Now that I have alleviated my anxiety, I relax and enjoy this collection of women.  We are an eclectic mix.  Gina and I became the best of friends after sharing an office at work.  Interestingly, sharing office space seems to work well for me when it comes to making friends.  Many of the closest friends I have are women I shared space with most of the day Monday-Friday for some period of my life.  My other friends, Andrea and Vivienne, I met through Gina.

The three of them, along with a collection of other wise and wonderful women, had formed a book club around Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.  Gina and I, as close as we were, had never ventured into such topics.  I was never particularly interested in anything related to “spirituality.”

It’s funny how you can push away something and have no interest in it and then it suddenly pops up at a moment some window opened a crack when you weren’t looking.

When I got past the point in life when I was dreaming about what my future would be like and instead realizing that the future had come and gone while I wasn’t looking, I was left asking myself, “Is this it?”  As I matured (if that’s what we call it), drama receded into stability and with stability, life somehow lost its luster.  I suspect the timing of this sudden sense of disappointment was also a factor of not having children.  Without the distraction of young people taking up my time and energy, I had the space to notice that my life was disappointingly mediocre.

There I was with this little nagging feeling that there had to be more to life when Gina introduced me to Vivienne and Andrea and A New Earth.  For me, A New Earth introduced a new world.  The simple state of Being and simply feeling present allowed me to feel connected to life in a way I’d never felt before.  Although these teachings have apparently been around in countless forms for thousands of years, this book was like a portal into a realm I’d never entered before.  Unfortunately, like so many lessons in my life, it was fleeting and I found myself completely losing the ability to experience a sense of connectedness as quickly as I discovered it.

As I continued to explore Tolle’s teachings with my girlfriends, I got further away from the experience of and more into thinking about those teachings.  Eventually, we stopped pretending to be meeting about the book and just got together to socialize.  The realization that laughing and sharing together was a lot easier than seeking enlightenment overtook us.  Truthfully, a glass of wine with empathetic friends is its own form of enlightenment.

Now, at Vivienne’s house, Vivienne and Andrea introduce a new book to us.  It’s called Nonviolent Communication.  I have to smile.  I have been curious about Nonviolent Communication for some time.  I have seen flyers for workshops, received emails advertising classes, and seen references to it repetitively enough to realize the blinds have been pulled up even if the window hadn’t quite opened yet.  Now, here is a book on the topic and friends who want to learn it’s content together.

I am thrilled to have something new to read and secretly hope it will help me reestablish my lost connection.  But a little bell goes off in my head somewhere behind all the excitement: seeking is not the way to find.  Being is just being and you can’t find it by looking for it; you find it by doing it.  I am reminded of one of my favorite Yoda quotes (gotta love StarWars wisdom):  “Do or do not; there is no try.”

I appreciate the wisdom and insights my friends bring to our discussion.  Every time I talk with them, I learn something new and have many ah-ha moments.  It’s funny how addictive momentary insight can be.  It gives me the impression that I’m getting somewhere.

As we wind down the evening, I wonder how much of this book will actually make its way into daily practice in my life.  I wonder what space I will need to make for it and how much time incorporating it will take.  I wonder why reading about changing behavior is so exciting while actually changing it is so burdensome.  I think about the cycle of hope and despair that comes from the belief that we can change.  That we can be better people. We can feel connected and fulfilled.  And then, the realization that maybe we can, but it’s hard.  It requires making choices–consciously stopping mindless habits that happen on autopilot and choosing a new way instead.  Finding the energy to even notice mindless habits is often the most difficult part.  I smile, amused at myself, as I think, “Maybe this time it will be different.”

On Visiting

After arriving in Columbus, I quickly realize several things about coming for a visit:

  1. Friends are more important than errands–scheduling tasks from getting my iPad fixed to getting my hair done leaves little time to see friends in the few waking hours left after work.
  2. Co-workers are more important than errands–missing happy hour with colleagues in favor of appointments wastes a rare opportunity to socialize with people I enjoy.
  3. Making a list of everyone I want to see and scheduling time with them before I leave and before I schedule any kind of mundane task should help make time to see everyone next trip.
  4. Spending time with people I care about is important because I don’t know how long it will be before I get to see them again, even if I just saw them 2 weeks ago.
  5. Having a mobile broadband connection that works makes like easier.
  6. When I pack, I need to count carefully and not get distracted in the middle of packing.

These lessons were, of course, learned the hard way.  Thinking I could take care of tasks in Columbus more easily than in Chattanooga because I knew where to go caused me to pack my schedule with stuff I really would have preferred not to do.  I missed out on the opportunity to spend time with people.  We ended up with only 3 evenings that we could schedule anything and one of them was shared with a 2-hour hair appointment, making for a late evening on a work night.  I mentally go through a list of the people we didn’t get to see and groan inwardly.

On the plus side, staying with friends worked out well–at least for us.  Sharing a cup of coffee in the wee hours of the morning with my fellow insomniac made a great way to start the day (although I suppose we both would have liked an extra hour or two of sleep).  And our schedules were offset just enough that we got to spend some quality time together without getting in each other’s way (I hope).

Driving was interesting.  I didn’t think about having only one car to share with Pat while in Columbus.  As it turned out, he did all the driving until we were on our way home again, so I went almost 3 weeks before I got behind the wheel again.  Not having a car also made it difficult to arrange time with friends at lunch.  I managed to have lunch with work friends, but missed the chance to get together with a friend who I could have seen if I’d had a car to meet her for lunch.

We left for Columbus on a Sunday with Pat doing the driving so I could get caught up on some work.  Unfortunately, my work laptop refused to play nicely with our USB broadband device and we found ourselves wardriving for a WiFi network so I could get a document emailed that needed to be in Hong Kong in time for the start of their Monday morning.  Worried that I would forget to send it when we got to Columbus, I wanted to make sure it went out while I was thinking about it.  Fortunately, McDonald’s now offers free WiFi, accessible from their parking lot.  But driving around looking for internet access does not make for an efficient car trip.

As for getting distracted while packing, once we are in Columbus, I discovered why my suitcase looked so empty.  I’d stopped packing before I’d finished gathering together everything I needed for working out (especially my workout bag) and I’d mis-counted the number of days I needed work clothes.  With no workout bag, I ended up packing my change of work clothes for after my workout into my laptop bag, which caused me to forget my lovely heels.  I ended up having to wear my fivefingers shoes all day the first day I went to the gym.  If you’ve never seen fivefingers shoes, check them out.  While they are the best shoes I’ve ever worked out in, they aren’t exactly complementary to work attire.  I comforted myself that not that many people would see me in my silly shoes, but, of course, we have a firedrill at the office that day and I ended up in the parking lot along with the entire population of our building.  As I walk across the parking lot, I count the number of times I hear, “Nice shoes!”  Oh well.