crossroads

I’ve never really introduced the small section of my blog that I call The Coffee Shop, but here’s another taste of it. It’s something of an anomaly: fiction and nonfiction, simultaneously real and yet completely imaginary. It’s a small space in my mind that bends space and time to try and think about what a future or past version of myself might say to me if she saw where I was, what I was doing, who I am. It’s kind of like a letter to the future, a letter to the past, and a letter to the present rolled up in one. This installment is a little different in that I really started writing it months and months ago and only recently figured out what I was trying to tell myself. Basically, it took me the whole of my Summer of Unemployment (a story for another time) and a conversation with one of my oldest friends to figure out what I was trying to tell myself. In any case, here we are. I’m not really sure why I’m even writing this introduction, but… I hope this small corner of my imagination helps one of you as much as writing it has helped me.


Right
, she says, all business. What seems to be the trouble?

I stare at the mug clutched in my hands and say nothing, trying to figure out why we’re back in this place as she slips onto the stool next to me.

Oh, come now. It’s just me, she says, nodding thanks as Wisdom hands her a cup of tea. It’s just you. I glance at her. She’s younger than last time, her curls still brown and her laugh lines not so deep. I wonder what exactly this forty-something in business casual can tell me that the eighty-year-old with a penchant for reading on porch swings can’t.

I don’t suppose you can tell me when you are, what you’re doing? I ask her.

She crosses her arms on the counter top and smirks at me. Now why would I do that? she says, her tone gentle and her eyes wise. It would ruin the surprise. She nudges me with her elbow. Come on. What’s up?

Crossroads.

Ah. She leans back. Yes. Those. Her eyes narrow and I can feel her taking me in, seeing where I’m at and remembering what it feels like. I shift awkwardly under the weight of my oldest, comfiest sweatshirt and avoid her gaze as Anxiety slips past my elbow to grab my empty plate.

I nod. Those. My mind whirls, and I wonder how to explain this, how to describe the knot of worry and confusion that’s constantly in my stomach these days. I force my eyes up to her face. She winks at me. Of course she’s taking this lightly. She knows how this ends, how I get through.

She softens, somewhat, unfolding her arms and nudging me with her elbow again. She gives me a nod, and somehow it’s all suddenly too much–the knot of anxiety, the confusion, the fear, the weariness–and the words come tumbling out.

I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s as close to a summary as I’m going to get.

I stare at my tea. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I hate that. I hate not knowing what’s next. I hate not having a plan. I hate that I’ve started questioning every little thing and worrying about every big thing. I take a shaky breath, exhale slowly. And I hate that on top of all of this–this mess, this anxiety and lack of clarity–I hate that on top of all that, I can’t make it go away because I don’t know what I want to doI like knowing things! I like learning things and discovering things and keeping tabs on everything from fact to fiction and I hate that I can’t even do that with my own brain these days because I’m so confused and conflicted that every time I try to do something about it, I’m grasping at straws. And I know it’s not unique and I know other people are struggling with this but it feels so damn lonely that knowing isn’t enough and just. Everything.

I bite my lip. Everything feels like it’s falling apart, and I don’t know what to do about it. 

She nods slowly, looking straight ahead. Patience is standing there, holding a tray of freshly baked scones. She takes one and smothers it in butter before handing it to me, sliding her own plate across the counter to catch the crumbs. I take a bite. She watches me eat, and it is only when I have finished the last bite of butter and cherries that she speaks.

Have you thought about what you want to do? She stops my retorted “of course” with the raise of her hand. I mean really thought. Spent time on it. Questioned what you’re good at, what you like, what you want out of life and work and all  of that. Have you really, really thought about it? 

I blush and lower my eyes to the crumbs on the plate. Not really, I mumble.

Start there, she says. You know more than you think you do. It’s all in there. She taps my forehead. You’ve just got to do some digging. 

I nod.

Use your skills, nerd, she says affectionately, face amused behind her glasses. Write it out. Trust me. She laughs quietly. Trust you. It’ll help. She slips off the stool.

She picks up her bag and knocks her elbow against mine. It’s okay to be scared, she says with a small smile before heading towards the door. But don’t give up on hope.

resolutions

New year, she says, new beginnings. Resolutions.

I nod knowingly despite feeling rather lost and overwhelmed. This month catches me off-guard every year. I plan for parts of it: sister’s birthday, check. Roommate’s birthday, check. List of things I need to bring back to the dorm, check. I understand those details. The big picture, the month that ends with short little February sauntering through my door, always avoids my notice.

That, I suppose, is January for you: December’s off and gone without so much as a by-your-leave and suddenly — quite unexpectedly — the champagne is popping and everyone joins in a slightly off-tempo and lyric-weary rendition of Auld Lang Syne. You turn around and find January First all dolled up, the tastefully embroidered sequins on her little black dress winking at you as she smirks those red-painted lips and sinks gracefully into Last December’s vacated chair.

You never quite see the baggage she left in the hall. That always gets left for her successor, January Two. Well. Those two spar more than any siblings I know. She brings it all, though: Midnight drags those suitcases past your front door, all those Regrets From 2013 and those Weighty Resolutions That Cannot Be Kept.

New year, new beginnings. Resolutions, you know.

I frown and grab her arm before she whisks away from our table at the coffee shop. How, I ask. She pauses, puzzled, between the weight of my hand and the weight of my words. How do you expect me to think about beginnings right now — I sweep my free hand at the table, the tea, the shop itself. How can — I gulp — how can I think about beginnings when all I see about the next few months is one ending after another?

She drops back into her seat, curious. Endings, I explain. You know — change. This moment, this month — it’s only the tip of the iceberg that sinks the Titanic. She quirks an eyebrow and chuckles as Melodrama refills our mugs.

Darling, things aren’t ending. Changing, yes, but not ending. This is not an apocalypse.

Hmph. Typical of her, twisting my words. Graduation’s coming, I say, trying to grasp my quickly-fraying thoughts. I keep talking, knowing they’ll find their way back eventually. They always do. Words are funny that way. Graduation is practically around the corner and I have no idea what to do after that. This part of my life, it’s ending. It’s ending, and I’m scared. I know I’m repeating myself. I try to voice the truth these concerns hold for me. All I know about life is ending here.

Ah. There they are.

She takes my hands from their spot around my mug. Look at me, my dear. Look at me. I force my eyes into hers. Listen, my dear, dear girl. Listen to me. That is not true. What you know about life does not depend on your textbooks, or your progress on your degree, or receiving your diploma, or even having the familiar structure of school.

What you know, she says, squeezing warmth back into my chilled hands, does not depend on these things alone. You are more than the sum of your experiences. You are more than all that you do in the future. You are more than all you understand right now. I nod, staring at that third cup of tea.

Life does not cease to exist when you graduate, my dear. In fact, quite the opposite. She smiles, gives my hands a final pat, and stands back up to leave.

One last thing, she says. She cups my tear-streaked cheek in her palm and I stare at those old, wise eyes that will one day be mine. If you understood anything past what you’ve already learned, already seen, already done — would you still be where you are?

I shake my head slowly, still leaning into her hand. Well. There you have it, then. New beginnings was not quite the right term — it’s more of a new stage, isn’t it? The next act of your continuous experience of life. Figure out the next step or two, darling. You don’t have to know the whole itinerary.

When she’s disappeared in the morning light creeping through the door, I breathe deep. As I turn back to our table, Melodrama disappears with our dishes into the kitchen. Tranquility brings me a cool glass of water, sparing a second to pat my back before moving on to the next customer. New beginnings, or continued experience?

I sip my water and smile at the sunlight.

looking too hard

Image“Sometimes,” she murmured to me, “I think we look too hard. We try to see what God is teaching us in every little thing — we search so determinedly that we forget to actually learn the lesson, whatever it may be.” She paused.

“You see,” she continued, “it doesn’t really matter what we think God is teaching us. We’ve probably got it all wrong, anyway. The important thing, I think, is to be thankful for what we’re learning.”

Her face split into a crooked grin. “And remember to look at the stars, and the mountains, and the ocean lapping at your feet. Remember that feeling, that standing on the brink of eternity feeling that reminds you we are small. Remember that — you’re small. Remember God is big. Remember there are things beyond your knowledge and that God gives us wisdom anyway.”

She chuckled. “And dash it all, remember to laugh at yourself and enjoy the lesson!”