I ordered an egg salad sandwich in Wawa today. It was well after 1 p.m. and I was hungry. I had also just come from a funeral.
I used the automated order machine, went to get a soda and chips, paid for my order, and then went back to the counter to wait …and wait. Suddenly, there were a whole bunch of people around me who were not there when I first placed the order. And the numbers being called were well above the number on my receipt. “Hmmm,” I began to think. “I think I got missed.” I waited a few more minutes.
As I approached the counter, I thought to myself, “Don’t be that annoying person.” And so I wasn’t. I very politely asked if my number had been called and suggested that perhaps I missed it. The young woman said that it had not been called and asked to see my receipt. The order, itself, was missed. The sandwich was never made. Kindly, I thanked them and stepped back to wait.
Just then, a man about my age leaned over to me and commented on how patient I am. This made me laugh because if you know me at all, you know that patience is not always my strongest characteristic. “Most people aren’t that way,” he said. “It’s nice to see.”
And so why am I blogging about an egg salad sandwich? What kind of lesson could possibly be found in a Wawa? Actually, not much of a lesson at all. But where the lesson is found is in the fact that this happened right after a funeral and that the man’s comments to me were about being patient.
Today’s funeral service held a message about moving. No, not moving as in exercise; but moving as in from one place to another. The pastor talked about how much he hates to move; how the places we’ve grown familiar with hold memories, and friends, and all our “stuff.” Moving, he suggested is an inconvenience. But he also affirmed that every one of us – through the nature of our lives – is destined to move at least once. The movement he referred to was, of course, a movement from this life to the next. But between the sermon and the experience in Wawa, I began to think about how we not only move through life, but how we so often rush. For a complete stranger to comment on my demonstrated patience says to me that the norm must be one of hurriedness and haste. There is almost an expectation that we’ll finish with something and move onto the next – the next project, the next chore, the next relationship. If this consideration had not come to me, I would, in fact, have rushed through even my lunch.
But there is no greater reminder about how short life can be than a funeral. And it is not a usual experience to have a stranger comment on a characteristic like patience in a Wawa. So, the combined experience has made me reflective.
How often do you rush through the day? When do you take time to reflect?
I know that life is busier than it should be; that the demands on all of us are far greater than we’d like. But I also know that it is in the moments we take to savor, to think about our actions, and to appreciate our blessings, that we find gratitude, or peace, or even patience. Today I was grateful for that egg salad sandwich – and I slowed down to really appreciate how good it was. It was only a sandwich. But if so much meaning was found in just a sandwich, imagine how much meaning there is to be found when we slow down to enjoy the bigger things. Those things – the things that matter – they shouldn’t be part of our “to do” list. In fact, when we do move to that other life, it will be those things that people remember most about us. Worth considering, isn’t it?
People often say, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” I’m not sure that’s always a true statement. In fact, I think some people know exactly what they have, but in the process of taking it for granted, they think they will never lose it or they don’t do the work to keep it. So … the realization at the end isn’t some deep moment of clarity and awareness. It’s more an “oh shit” feeling of “I can’t believe it’s actually gone.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately … not like losing my keys or my wallet, but the loss of people from our lives. Sometimes loss comes from death, but it also comes from changes in situation (like someone gets a job and moves across the country), or from rough patches in a relationship that just can’t be mended. Sometimes loss happens abruptly. But sometimes it happens over time as a gradual process, like helium from a balloon that sits stagnant too long, or a flower that’s gone too long without water. The relationship wilts. And without the right attention, it will die.
I was reading an article online recently about fighter pilots. In addition to all the implied dangers of the job, these pilots face an insidious threat called hypoxia. Because the system that produces oxygen for pilots who fly at high altitudes is not always perfect, pilots sometimes suffer from a lack of oxygen to their brains which can produce light-headedness or a lack of concentration (like the symptoms we may more commonly associate with high-altitude mountain climbers). In worst case scenarios, a pilot can black out from the lack of oxygen. Unless he “wakes up,” he could end up descending hopelessly into the ocean.
So what does this have to do with relationships? I think the slow, gradual loss of a relationship is a lot like hypoxia. Something happens that causes our relationship to stop breathing. And unless we can find a way to once again start sucking oxygen into it, we find ourselves disoriented and disconnected. Our relationship becomes distressed.
And so I go back to my opening observation. I wonder how often people in distressed relationships actually stop to think about what they have – and if what they have (maybe not at the moment, but overall) makes them happy. Unlike the pilot who may not even be aware of his impairment, partners in a hypoxic relationship could work together to breathe new life into their situation. Of course, there is also a chance to pull the metaphorical parachute and escape. Either way is a choice. And both choices, I believe, are ok ….as long as we made the effort to know and value what we had before it was gone.
I was recently having a conversation with a friend who is considering moving. She’s currently in a one bedroom apartment. It has central air, a fireplace, access to a pool, and allows her dog. She is comfortable there. And although she’s affording it, the rent is steep and promises to once again rise next month.
My friend has done due diligence. She’s looked at other apartments in her area and even found one she likes. It is a little bit smaller and doesn’t have central air or a fireplace. But it offers access to a pool, is a first floor unit (which she prefers), and welcomes her shaggy little roommate. The rent is $200 a month cheaper. And yet, my friend just can’t decide.
Today, as we were talking about her living options, my friend counted ways she could save money every month (without moving). Her list made me wonder why she was even thinking of a change in the first place. When I asked her why the decision was such a hard one for her, I soon learned that my friend likes where she is. If rents were equal and she could choose, she would just stay put. But there’s this nagging feeling in her that she can get a better deal elsewhere.
This leads me to question the value we place (or don’t place) on comfort, on stability, on feeling “at home.” So often, I think we listen to the rational side of ourselves; the piece of our brain that logically weighs a situation with a series of check boxes and balance sheets. I think we’ve been conditioned to do that, as if it is the only way to make a smart decision. In reality, however, every decision we make involves a level of risk. We can never truly be sure that the decisions we make today won’t somehow bubble up in the future to cause regret. We can only do our best.
I think this pondering applies far beyond an apartment lease. I’d even venture to say that it applies to our jobs, to how we spend our free time, even to who we decide to love. How many of us have completely ruined a relationship by simply wondering if we were getting the best return on our investment? How often have we looked at our partner and made that check list of strengths and weaknesses? I’m not saying that anyone should ever compromise the really important things just to make a relationship work. What I am saying is that I think we take the element of comfort for granted; that we sometimes forget how truly important it is to feel “at home”; that we forget to listen to our gut.
I don’t think we should ever let our fear of falling prevent us from taking a leap. But once we’ve landed someplace we like, why do we let the turbulence of doubt ruin our destination?