It seems a million years ago now. I was in the lowest, darkest part of my after college life: scrambling to make ends meet, drinking bad beer for breakfast , lunch and dinner, lonely, confused and pissed off. Eventually I ended up in a ditch in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night. I remember asking some poor sap to make a phone call. He looked disappointed in me (just what I needed) but handed me a phone. Same as always, I called my father. It was too late to call. He answered. “I’ll be right there Lou.” “It’s a couple hours, dad.” “I’m on my way.” More than anything I remember being so fucking cold as I waited on my ditchward-sloping seat for his headlights. He pulled up and promptly pulled me out, then took me to breakfast. He told me he wasn’t going to ask me any questions and that his job of figuring things out for me had long since passed. He told me I could talk all I wanted, but that he had no advice to give. He said he was plenty happy to pull my truck out of its current predicament and feed me, but that was the end of the line. I did talk, and he did listen. True to his word he didn’t even suggest I get my obviously scrambled shit together. He slammed the door of the pickup closed just after he offered me only this: You’ll figure it out Lou, I know you will. Sometimes it’s just rough road for a bit.” It was precisely what I needed to hear.
If you’ve already danced gracefully through the after-college-oh-my-God-what’s-next phase of your life: good for you. If you haven’t, welcome to limbo. If you remember it as I do: Congratulations, remember the dimly flickering light at the end of the very long tunnel? There are those with plans or skills that help them slide seamlessly into real life without a hiccup. That’s nice. There are those that don’t. Not so nice. I was one of them, and yesterday I had lunch with another of them. Although I knew her vaguely, she had come to yoga with a friend and I knew immediately they were both wide eyed with that “first free summer” look. We had a beer at 2:00 in the afternoon during which “she” confessed she had slept though the 12:00 (NOON!!!!!!) yoga class she had intended to take, and had spent a good amount of time after that hanging out with her two brand new guniea pigs. We sat and talked for over an hour over a single beer and I egged her on and she hung back and I pushed harder and she got defensive and I got direct and she became evasive and then I left her there having gained nothing and I picked up the kids from school. She has no plans. None at all. She is unhappy now and knows lonely is next. She sleeps too much and expects too little. Things are not looking good. Here’s the thing: I know she is going to be okay. She is going to be better than okay. She is alive and creative and smart and shockingly funny. She’s got this, it’s just going to take a minute. In a way, I find myself yearning for a spot on the shaky ground she is standing on. Things are about to get real. She is going to have to figure this out. Her family isn’t going to help her (she’s asked), and her good friends are already on their way. She is dreading Ohio’s gray winter and she just might have to suck it up and stay here if she doesn’t toss those guniea pigs off the back porch, pull on her yoga pants and step it up. I hope she wallows in it a bit though. That’s when you learn the good stuff.
No matter where you find yourself today, you can either look forward or backwards and recognize that the space between high school or college graduation (I took an extra semester suckers- I know when to keep my ticket on the easy train) and real life can kick your ass. It did mine. I had a degree in Anthropology that I had no intention of using. Ever. I’m a planner you see. A real look-ahead-and-set-things-up kinda’ gal. At that point in my life I was good at running, reading depressing Irish authors, riding farm ponies, “shotgunning” beers while straddling college housing bathtubs (I do hate a sticky floor) and hanging out with my friends. I had taken jobs on farms and in restaurants, had worked cleaning gutters and painting Ohio barns and silos, had worked behind a deli in a dirty grocery store, helped my mom mix glazes in her pottery studio and had logged endless hours on the family farm. I could mix any drink under the sun and make you smile while you tipped it back, but that was pretty much the extent of my life’s work. My bag o’ tricks was pretty fucking empty.
You see, all of us learn quite early to move away from anything uncomfortable. It if hurts physically? Change position. Emotionally? Turn to stone. Intellectually? Pick another subject. One of the first things we learn as children is to move away from pain. It’s a necessary lesson indeed. Who wants to be hungry or lonely or wet? It’s an instinct that keeps us alive. It keeps us sane, and… it keeps us safe. Sometimes though, you just gotta have that uncomfortable-ness to lunch. Sit with it. Invite it in. Figure out what is lurking beneath your need to move away from what is making you uncomfortable. My guess is you probably won’t like it at all. I invite you to stay seated. Resist the urge to fling the rest of your wine in the face of your impolite, uncomfortable self.
And the job for the rest of us? The job for those of us on either side of sticky? Let. It. Be. It’s so easy to give advice, to egg people on, to push and to press (as I, regrettably, did). It’s easy to let someone know how you navigated your own troubled waters and Look! See! how awesome I am now?! We are all different. We all need to experience lonely and sad and confused and lost. Planner? It’s coming for you too. Life is unpredictable and the earth beneath your feet will shift a bit at one point or another. Learn to sit with it. More importantly, let others learn to sit with it too. Buy them a beer or a slice of cake. Pull their Chevy from the ditch or hug them tight enough to make their eyes pop out, be available and honest, but for God’s sake (and as cruel as it may feel) encourage them to dig a little deeper. Encourage them to wait it out. Ask them what and why and when. Push past the easy answer and a quick decision made just to skip lightly across the not-knowing. There is a space between fear and success that is very lucrative. There is a sliver between loneliness and strength that is empowering. There is an un-teachable knowledge in figuring out what lies beneath the spaces between things. I spent a lot of time angry at my father. I found his reluctance to help me past trouble as a sign of disinterest. I questioned his love for me. I thought I wanted someone to hold my hand and pad the walls for me. I know now that out of love he took a step back. Not away. Just back. Can we all slow things down a bit? Can we/I learn to discover who I am and what I think and feel? Can I let my marriage be tricky and my kids be difficult? Can I let my friends struggle and offer a hand without an answer? Can I let myself patiently choose what is next and why? I hope so, because I want some of that again. That powerful learning that happens when it’s rough road ahead.