Last Wednesday started out like many Wednesdays, accompanied by a scribbled checklist of countless to-do’s, and a shaky (at best) strategy to accomplish them.
The day ended familiarly, too. Spin class: check. Shower gift: purchased. Client meetings: productive. Writing conference: over. Laundry, dishes and grocery shopping: no, no, no. Wine: never mind.
Yes, on the whole, Wednesday was just another day, but there was a moment in the afternoon that took me by surprise.
Actually, the moment more than surprised me.
I had a major wakeup call in a run-down, nearly-deserted gas station in the middle of nowhere.
“I’m so busy. I feel like I am hitting a wall,” I said to my friend on the phone as I sped away from my writing conference and pulled up to the first gas station in sight. I immediately cringed at how cliché that sounded, though the phrase seemed fitting in this instance. It was noon, and my next coaching client was scheduled in exactly one hour, at a coffee shop exactly one hour away. My gas tank was on empty (as usual, it seemed), and the LOW FUEL light glared mockingly at me as I hung up the phone.
(A quick aside: I probably felt like I was hitting a wall because I am often running late and can be somewhat disorganized. Just ask my friend Christina, who discreetly snatches the iPhone from my purse every time we’re out together just to catch an updated tally on my unread emails. I’ll spare you the guessing game and just tell you: As of today at 11:42 CST, I’m at 11,113. Sure, most of these are coupons, Groupons and other spam I don’t care about, but the fact that I cannot find time to delete them is pretty pitiful.)
None of that mattered now, though, as I raced into the Citgo station and bee-lined it to the refrigerated section to grab my Diet Co… DANG. I gave that up for Lent. Okay, fine, water. Everyone keeps telling me I need more water. This Evian looks good. Why is it so overpriced? Hadn’t someone once told me that E-v-i-a-n spelled backwards was Naïve, and that its manufacturers had named the water that way on purpose, so buying it was really like drinking my money away? Well, what do I care and maybe I am n-a-i-v-e! I’ll take it.
I power-walked toward the cashier and noticed a middle-aged man whom I instinctively and immediately avoided. He was in my path, and I conspicuously weaved away from him and purposely ignored the half smile he intended for me. He had long and unkempt hair, wore dirty work boots, and moved much too casually for my rushed agenda. As I walked past him, I am pretty sure I all but grimaced as he gradually moved out of my way.
I stopped at the cash register and sifted through my purse until I found my Visa. Before I could even present it, the cashier shook her head, informing me that I would need to spend at least $10 if I was going to pay with a card. Hadn’t I noticed the sign saying so? It was hanging right in front of me. Guess I musta missed it. I couldn’t decide who I was more annoyed by: myself for missing the posted rule, or the cashier for enforcing it (I chose her). With one swift movement, she slid my water to the side counter, and all but shooed me on my way. But just as I had one annoyed foot out the door, I heard a man call behind me.
“Hey,” he said. “I got it! Take your water.”
As I turned around and saw it was him, I felt instantly and simultaneously surprised and guilty. I tried to refuse him, but he insisted. “Just take it.” And with the same grin I had tried to ignore before, he said, “Go on. I got it, really.” Taken aback by his unnecessary (and definitely undeserved) generosity, I guardedly walked back to grab my water from the now-really-annoyed cashier, and thanked the man very much. As I retreated, he called after me once more:
“Oh, and one more thing: If you happen to see any yards with damaged trees this spring, do me a favor and refer them to my company, Beaver Tree Repair.”
I nodded and promised him I would.
It was one of those moments when the Universe stares you straight in the face and makes you forget about your agenda, your emails, your car ride, your Diet Coke-less existence. A moment when something legitimately surprises you, and the world asks you to notice it. That man changed my outlook that day. It wasn’t about the stupid, overpriced water, or the fact that I was in a hurry. It was about the fact that in my hasty effort to hurry the heck up, the man I wouldn’t make time for had so graciously made time for me.
I remember being little and actually noticing other people. I remember taking mental notes on the woman in front of my mom in the grocery line, and the man behind her at the video store. l remember being fascinated by what other people wore, who they were with, and what they had to say. Was it possible that in my old(er) age, I was forgetting how to look and really see?
On the (exactly one-hour) drive to the coffee shop I got to thinking about walls. There are the walls we build, live in and call our homes, and then there are the walls we build around ourselves emotionally in order to avoid the things we are afraid of, or believe we don’t have time for. Walls protect us, sure. But what do they prevent us from experiencing?
If only these inner walls could talk, maybe they would say the things we shy away from saying out of fear. Maybe they would open a door to allow us to do the things we’d normally save for another day. Maybe we would smile at the stranger instead of averting our eyes, and maybe we’d have the insight to realize that the emails on our smart phones are no less significant than the real people behind their addresses. If our walls came down, maybe we could mentally commit daily life-lessons to the memory card in our brains… and then stop, look and listen before we click delete.
If these walls could scream, maybe they would tell us that only thing more valuable than the day in this life is the life in this day – and that life might surprise us.
If only we take the time to let it.
Oh, and one more thing. If you happen to see a broken tree, do me a favor and call Beaver Tree Services. Tell him the girl from the gas station says thank you – for a lot more than just the free water.