Hitchhikers

On my way home from Parents’ Weekend at my daughter’s school, I passed three hitchhikers. Now, when I was younger, people used to hitchhike all the time. But in recent years, this ride-hailing method seemed to be a thing of the past. Honestly, I believe I’ve run across maybe two hitchhikers in the past 15 years. Until Sunday.

It was drizzly on Sunday and not ideal weather to venture out onto the road to hail a ride. Aside from the guy hitchhiking in the other direction, the first hitchhiker I passed was wearing a green hoodie and carrying what looked like a sleeping bag in a red stuff sack. Just a sleeping bag. Nothing else. It had just started to rain at this point, and he didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked downright grumpy. He was young—early twenties maybe. He stood on the side of the road, looking down, waiting for a ride. He pulled at the heartstrings of the mother in me, but I didn’t stop because… well, strangers, you know. We’ve all heard the warnings.

The other hitchhiker piqued my curiosity. She had positioned herself on the entrance ramp to the highway with a small cardboard sign just large enough to hold the name of a town farther north. She was looking to travel about 70 miles up the highway, but I was only going to the very next exit—3 miles at best. The hitchhiker looked to be a bit older than me, with a sassy mop of short grey hair. She was energetic and working excitedly to get a ride. Her face was expressive and smiling as she appealed to the passing motorists—she looked like the kind of person who would entertain the driver with animated stories of her life experience for the entire 70 miles. Up the road a few feet, she had placed her name-brand suitcase with an additional bag on top—as if she had just stepped off a flight at the airport. She intrigued me.

I experienced a momentary urge to stop and pick her up. I wished I was traveling farther in her direction so I might give her a ride and get to know her. From my brief glimpse of her as I passed, I envisioned her as the “Thelma” to my “Louise,” the partner-in-mischief I have been searching for. I could just imagine the conversation we might have as we drove—so engrossing that we would miss the exit. From our brief moment of eye contact, I wanted to know this woman. She was that intriguing.

And from my brief encounter with this intriguing stranger, I learned something. Everyone we come across on our journey—whether for five seconds or five years—has a lesson to teach. From this woman (and the contrast between these two hitchhikers), I learned that one’s approach to life can have a huge impact on how people see us. The first hitchhiker—he was definitely a stranger, and he would remain so. The second, however, was a potential friend.

Two strangers, one activity, two very different approaches. Whenever you have the chance, be the engaging “friend.”

{Photo by Atlas Green on Unsplash}

The Adventure Continues

I recently took my kids to Canada for a few days of exploring in Montreal. When we hit the northernmost Vermont border, we had to cross into Canada for our second driving adventure of the trip.

Crossing between the U.S. and Canada is always a bit strange. Like… the road keeps going, but you have to stop to get permission to keep driving. So you pull up to a very secure looking toll-booth-type structure, talk to the border patrol, and drive on in, even though the road looks the same. (Well, other than the speed limit signs, which are now in kilometers per hour, making it appear that the speed limit has increased substantially…). And talking to the border patrol officers is a bit unnerving because they are trained to be intimidating. Or maybe they just see too much in their jobs, and they quickly learn “intimidating” is the best approach. Who knows?

I am not (usually) intimidating. In fact, I like to talk to people and engage them in conversation. So as we pulled up to the window, my daughter warned me not to banter with the agent. Because apparently, I don’t know any better.

“Where are you from?” the man asked harshly in his French-Canadian accent. His directness caught me by surprise, and I momentarily forgot where we were from. But as he took the pile of passports from my hand, I quickly recovered and responded to his question. “Where are you going?”

“Montreal,” I informed him, and when asked, I told him how long we would be there.

“Do you have family in Montreal?”

“No, sir,” I responded.

“Do you have friends in Montreal?” he pressed.

“No, sir,” I answered. He studied the passports. “We’re on an adventure,” I offered, deviating from the expected script.

He snapped right back to the script. “Do you have any weapons in the car?”

“No, sir.”

“That would be an adventure,” he stated. It took me a split second to realize that he had ventured from the script, as well.

“What?” I asked. “If we had weapons?” He nodded. “Yes, it would,” I agreed

“The adventure would stop here,” he smiled and chuckled a bit to himself.

“I’m sure it would,” I smiled back.

“Go. Have fun.” He handed me our passports and waved us through. We thanked him and drove away. We were a bit giddy that the interchange had turned to an unexpected bit of fun.

And, of course, we were thrilled that our adventure would continue.

Tangled

Somehow, my yellow yarn became hopelessly tangled. The skein began to fall apart, and pretty soon, it was all just a heap of string and knots. This evening, I decided to roll it into a ball. I cut it free from my knitting project, and I began to roll. At first, it was pretty easy. But soon, I hit some rough patches. There were several knots that seemed, at first, to be un-tangle-able.

But here’s the funny thing about knots. If you get frustrated and impatient, the knots become tighter and stronger and less manageable. But if you take your time, remain calm, and put in the patience to knead them, loosen them, and examine their workings, you can actually figure out how to unravel them and get back to something that is useful and knot-less.

These knots, they are much like life. If you hit a rough patch, or things get crazy, and you get frustrated and impatient, the situation can become more difficult and lead to greater challenge. If you pull too tightly, you can get yourself inextricably tangled in a mess that is greater than when it began. In these situations, it pays to step back and gather the patience to work through whatever you are going through.

If you look at the big picture, you can trace the path to the source—the root cause of the problem–and work your way through. Systematically. Methodically. Finding the problem and looking for the best direction.

With patience, I am creating a useful ball of yarn from the mess that was my yellow skein. I have worked the ball over, under, and through many loopholes, and I have loosened lots of tight spots. I am getting there. But I’m reaching my limit for now.

In the morning, I will pick up where I left off. Maybe I’ll give in to frustration, work through what I can, and cut off the rest. Or maybe, I will gather the patience to finish the job, to work out all the knots, and roll the rest of the yarn into the ball I’ve started.

It all depends, I guess, on what tomorrow brings.

Surrender

At the beginning of this year, I came across a picture of a knitting project—a temperature blanket which is completed at the rate of one row per day. I’m not sure what possessed me to take this on, but the finished product looked intriguing. One row per day. How difficult could that be? On January first, or maybe the second, I selected an array of colors—one for each of the ten-degree temperature ranges we’re likely to experience here in the Northeast. I was ready to create a beautiful blanket. One row per day, I thought. I can commit to that!

It wasn’t long before I realized what I had gotten myself into. As I began to knit my one row each night, I realized I had absolutely no control over what the finished product would look like. I could not choose the color I would use each night. Nope. That was chosen for me based on the temperature that day. Suddenly, I was not the creator of the blanket. I was merely an unwitting tool in the finished product. The blanket was going to be its own story, and it was not my story to tell.

Now here we are, almost halfway through the year. I have kept up with my temperature blanket, and I am finding the results somewhat interesting. My colors are based on the high temperature of the day, and there are occasions when I consider fudging just a bit. Ooo, 59°. Perhaps I could knit a row of yellow, my 60s color… but I don’t.

I’ve realized, knitting a temperature blanket has been a giant lesson in surrender.  And this lesson comes at a time when I desperately need it. My children need my advice more than ever.

But do they really? Shouldn’t they figure things out on their own without me meddling in their business? Without me throwing myself into the decisions that will ultimately prepare them to face more and more challenging decisions? Shouldn’t I let them be?

They don’t need me the way they once did, and this is a challenging place for a parent. I won’t always be here, and I know my job is to let them flounder until they ask. My job is to give them the confidence that they have the skills they need. My job is to surrender control and trust that I have done my job in preparing them for exactly this. Even though I might want to help them out just this once… I have to let it go. I have to let them soar or fall so they will learn how to keep moving.

I may not like it any more than I like switching to a colder (or warmer) color in my knitting. But that’s exactly why knitting this blanket at this time has given me such a great lesson. I am not the one in control. I have to let go. My children are ready to tell their own stories.

Weaving

On my way to work one morning this week, I was listening to a story on NPR about a third grade teacher in LA and her chance meeting on an airplane—sitting next to a young soldier as he was preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. She talked to him, inquiring about his life and his training. After a lengthy conversation, they exchanged contact information, and the teacher had her young students send letters to the soldier while he was deployed. When he returned, he visited her and met her students, and now the two are like family. This story made me [once again] realize how deeply interconnected we all are.

We all spend our lives creating a beautiful and unique tapestry that tells our story. Each individual we encounter, every experience we have, each place we visit becomes a part of our lives and influences the greater whole of our identity. We are not only living our own tapestry, but we are contributing to that of others. And when you think of it that way, it is easy to visualize just how much—or how little—these pieces may contribute to the overall fabric. Some elements may be a thin strand woven into the overall piece. Or they may be such a major part of our lives that they are much of the background color.

My life is a fabric woven of chance encounters, momentary connections, and long-term friends and family; they all contribute to the beauty of the whole. They all contribute to who I am. My tapestry has incorporated positive and negative, intricately and inextricably woven together and connected to the lives of so many others.

Thread after thread after thread—various colors, shades, tensions, and textures—add richness of experience and interaction to the final product.

Someday, when I can more clearly see the greater whole as I look back over all of the things that made up my life, I will begin to see how the good and the bad, the momentous and the trivial were all necessary in adding depth and detail and richness to my life.

But for now, I’m going to work on making new connections and having new adventures so I can add a smattering of colorful threads. Then, when I look back over the whole, I can point to this time and say, “Right there–that is where I shook things up a bit!”

{Photo by Camille San Vicente on Unsplash}

Complacent

On my drive home from work tonight, I had a moment (or two) of complacency. I was caught up in my own thoughts, reflecting on my day and focused on the structure of the evening ahead, and I forgot there is generally traffic on my way home. Tonight, the backup started farther north than usual, and it caught me off guard.

On this night, the backup was not caused by the normal too-much-traffic-on-the-road-to-accommodate-the-lane-drop (which is just poor highway planning, if you ask me). Nope. Tonight’s traffic was brought to you by the state trooper on the side of the road helping a dad and his small son. When I drove by, it was handshakes and high-fives all around. No kidding. I smiled as I continued my drive, and my mind wandered into the past. As my mind wandered, my car drifted toward the shoulder where a car was stopped, jarring me back to the present and into my lane.

It’s never good to become complacent. Not on a drive, nor in life.

If you speed through life without paying attention and you become complacent, you are bound to run into an unexpected obstacle that might have been avoided. If you put yourself on a path toward a desired goal and become complacent along the way, you may never reach your desired outcome. If you reach a goal and then become complacent, you may fail to set any more goals, and you will become stuck. You will continue to coast along, happy with your one (and only) success.

But more importantly, complacency means you are not fully in the moment. It’s vital to stay present if you want to live a rich and fulfilling life. Be engaged with the people around you and the things you are doing; experience life to the fullest, so you can live your best possible life.

{Photo by Viktor Kiryanov on Unsplash}

Transformation

I’ve been away for too long. I haven’t been hiding (well, not really…), but life grew chaotic and crazy, and I’ve kept myself super busy swimming upstream. Responsibilities piled on top of responsibilities, and for a while, I felt like the donkey that got stuck in the well.

Multi-layered family obligations coupled with increasing work commitments and the normal operations of everyday life were nearly overwhelming and threatened to pull me under. But then I stepped back and looked at the big picture. It wasn’t that these things—taken individually—were overwhelming; it was that they all hit at once. If I plotted out a careful path and schedule, I could actually see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” So I took a deep breath, put my head down, and went to work. And surprisingly, everything got done.

Outside my window, the world reflected my inner transformation. Slowly but surely, spring emerged—because March and April are magical like that. Where the winter world is cold and bare, warming temperatures coax new life out of the ground in green shoots and tender flowers. Year after year, nature draws on its own ability to make spring happen.

I worked hard, drawing on what was inside of me, and I got through, but more importantly, I experienced my own transformation. My hard work brought tender shoots of possibility and promise, creativity and innovation. Just like the donkey, all the dirt and obligations that were thrown at me became my stepping stones. I drew on them for strength until I was no longer stuck at the bottom of a well, but boldly stepping out into the world, newly empowered and ready for the next challenge.