When you have something like reading--or drawing or music or nature--it surrounds you with a sense of connection to somethng great.~Anne Lamott (from Stitches, A Handbook On Meaning, Hope and Repair)
I opened the door of the library, the bottom of my jeans soaked through after walking across the parking lot in a downpour. My red umbrella dripped mercilessly, creating a puddle in the foyer. I hadn't cared that I was more wet than dry, because I had tried something new--even as small a thing as going to a different library branch--off my beaten path.
The librarian raised one eyebrow as I disrupted the peace, my shoes making lurid sounds as I crossed the faux-wood flooring over to the movie section. A toddler screamed at the same moment my shoes created a louder, more disgusting noise, distracting the librarian from his watchful eye on me. I found no movies that fit my mood. Gooseflesh appeared on my arms as the raindrops evaporated. I ran my ring fingers under my eyes, black eyeliner left smudges on my damp palms. I spied the new book section where my reward for trying something different awaited: The Art Of Vanishing, A Memoir Of Wanderlust by Laura Smith. I made my way to the checkout desk, my shoes now silenced. The librarian gave me a wry smile as I slipped the book into my bag.
Over the last weeks I'd been feeling overwhelmed--awful things happening at work--patients overdosing, a patient with gangrene from medical neglect, afraid to go to the hospital because he didn't have medical insurance. People frightened and traumatized. People coming apart. Somehow I was supposed to help them. Much of the time I didn't know where to begin. Most days I'd say, "You made it here today. That's a good start. Let's pull the session into the present. What's the next safest action for you to take today?" (I'm a firm believer in the beauty of small, incremental change). Just as I ask my patients to risk doing something different, I needed to keeping choosing to try new things too--even though I'm such a creature of habit--appreciating sameness, made delirious by familiarity. Going to a new library was a start. What was next?
The title of my library find intrigued me. That's exactly what I wanted to do. Vanish. Be alone. At least for a day or two.
I planned a trip out of town for a long weekend. I'd attend a conference that featured a speaker I liked and treat myself to the luxury of a hotel. I'd leave for the trip on the precise date that one year ago, I'd had my last chemotherapy treatment. After a year, I was still cancer-free. The decimating experience of fighting cancer was fading. I did feel grateful to be a survivor. At times, though, I felt vulnerable. I couldn't quite accept my hair. It had grown back silver. Some days I felt chic and confident. Other days I'd catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and gasp at how old I looked. Keeping the hair color counted as trying something different as well, I'd decided.
When I stepped out of the car that first evening of the conference, I felt a fresh breeze on my face and realized I was far enough upstate that the humidity was gone. I was especially pleased that my shoes matched the taupe stitching sewn around the edges of the sleeves on my blouse. The conference wasn't what I'd hoped for. The band played so loudly, my ears hurt. I tried again the next day. I enjoyed the speaker, yet again I found the pulsing music to be overly stressful. My "inner pleaser" made comments. "You can't leave. You paid for the conference. You have to stay." I didn't listen. I left.
I returned to that "room of my own," rejoicing that I had a day of freedom. I loaded a backpack with my journal and a stack of books and headed poolside. I sat the array of books on a table and dug in for the feast. I looked down at my sandaled foot as I idly flexed my ankle up and down, admiring the blush pink nail polish that brightened my toes. I was alone. I could hear the distant murmuring of squealing and laughter as people slid down roller coasters at a nearby theme park--just enough human connection amidst the joy of solitude. I leaned back in my lounge chair and observed through green pine branches fine, white clouds scudding along in a pefectly blue sky. I absorbed the sun's warmth as God's embrace, the gift of vanishing and divine alignment with the One who gave me exactly what I longed for.
What about you? Perhaps your life is moving along well, and you don't want to disrupt the momentum. I get that. However, if your heart is slightly threadbare, or perhaps even broken, what could you do differently today? One small action that might tip you toward safety or peace or joy? One small increment. What might you expect if you did?