I almost got stuck in a worry this morning.
I was in my car, driving to an appointment for a medical test.
I started imagining doom and gloom.
But about five seconds into the worry, I shook my head. Literally shook it.
And forced myself to get stuck in something else.
I quickly looked around for a prompt.
But not today. The scenery didn’t do it for me.
Like a Freudian free association exercise, I quickly reminded myself how happy I was only three weeks ago to be driving at all.
Feel it! I told myself. Feel the gratitude just to be driving with a real, certified driver’s license.
Nope. Didn’t feel it.
Next, taking a page out of my friend Andra’s “First Times” series of blog posts, I tried to turn my attention to more than two decades ago when I first got my American driver’s license and when I finally had a car of my own. Tried to imagine myself 17, alone, on the open road, without a grownup.
Surely memories of my youth would move something inside of me, I thought.
And, indeed, something started to stir.
The worry moved aside for a minute. But the “something” wasn’t quite strong enough to overpower the worry.
Then in an instant, in the mysterious way memory works, I remembered a “first time” that would move me from worry to joy.
I was 23.
I had just moved to New York City from Washington, D.C. where I had studied.
I was living, at the time, with a bunch of girls in a dorm room at NYU to take part in the university’s Summer Publishing Institute.
That day — the one my memory drifted to this morning– was a typical stifling hot summer day in NYC in 1997. Extra stifling in the subway system.
There’s a long underground hallway at Times Square/Port Authority that takes you from what was then the 1-2-3 line to the A-C-E. The walls were peppered with advertisements, of course. But hanging from the ceiling was a series of signs…an art installation geared towards the walking commuters. It apparently still hangs today.
The series starts with one word:
I remember being 23 and noticing those signs and having an out of body experience a la Steve Martin in LA Story.
“Are those signs talking to me?” I wondered.
I paused and considered what the signs were saying. Who they were speaking to.
And in my head, to the imaginary voice or to myself, I answered.
“I’m not tired at, all. In fact, I feel more alive than ever!” I thought.
Those signs were clearly speaking to some very sad and sorry grownups — not me! — who were already tired from life.
I laughed out loud.
It suddenly occurred to me that I was a grownup!
“I can’t believe I am a grown up,” I thought. “This is IT. I am officially a grownup.”
My self-talk continued:
“Here I am. In this subway station. Underground. Alone. On my own. Nobody here knows me. I can do or be anything I want. No one can tell me who to be or what to do anymore. I am an adult.”
I remember this as the exact moment I felt adult.
I remember a combination of terror and joy.
But mostly joy.
I wanted to dance around the room.
I was free!
Free to live my life!
Instead dancing, I just smiled.
I smiled at the strangers. The tired ones. The ones wondering, “Why bother?”
I felt sorry for their malaise, but I walked underground between 7th and 8th Avenues with a lighter step and a huge smile on my face.
“I am a grownup!” My smile said. “Just try and tell me what to do!”
The fragments of that smile remain today, sitting in the back of my throat, waiting for worry.
And I accessed that smile today and the emotions behind it.
On my own (!)
I can do or be anything I want!!!
I laughed at myself, then
and at life.
At how funny life is.
At how funny humans are.
Fragments of a smile became a true smile of joy as I realized I was free.