Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Keen Observation of the Obvious

The desert is a funny place. It is hotter than hell but quite the unexpected heavenly haven of beauty and wonder. Within only a couple of hours of being in Arizona I experienced the awe-inspiring phenomenon that is a desert storm. You know - the kind that comes out of nowhere, rages relentlessly, and somehow, through a strange turn of events, leaves everything renewed and restored – not unlike life.

I’m a wanderer at heart and I do my best to seize each and every opportunity I have to immerse myself in the newness of wherever life takes me – this was no exception. I am an observer who’s always looking for more. I suppose going to the heart of the desert was more appealing to me than it would be to some people, but I saw it as an opportunity for a journey of sorts and was thrilled to be there.

You could say I’m in Arizona with my boss ‘on business’ but I say I’m in Arizona getting a complimentary crash course in life from one of the smartest people I know. You learn a lot about people when you travel with them. You hear their stories, you share your own, and you throw some ink on the pages of new ones along the way. I am grateful for the opportunity to have spent time doing just that over the course of the past several days. She's a writer and I’m a wannabe so I’ve invested a lot of time into reading what she’s written – time that has been, without question, nothing short of well spent. Though I have many ‘favorite’ columns of hers and honestly believe they could all be bound into an overnight bestseller, “Disappointment and Magic” is today’s homerun.

The column begins like this: “I seem to spend a lot of time being disappointed. Disappointed in myself and the people around me. Disappointed in the ways of the world and the attitudes therein. Disappointed in what I have accomplished and what I have not. And so on…” And so on indeed. I am the poster child for irrational disappointment. I tend to hold people to high standards, but I hold myself to higher. Disappointment – be it in myself, in others, or to others – exists as an unforgivably crippling word in my vocabulary.

At first glance, everything in the desert looks the same, but also not unlike life, first glances are deceiving. I experienced a desert mirage for the first time the other day, and had to give pause to the wonder that couldn’t help but seep from the experience.

There has been something missing in my life. I’ve experienced, been a product of, or instigated some relatively major changes in the past year both intentionally and unexpectedly in search of that ever-present missing link. I have searched and searched and without fail always wound up empty handed and disappointed. I've looked and I've looked and I must have looked right at it, through it, up and over it, but guess what?

I found it in the desert: Freedom.

I have been a wide variety of willingly, circumstantially, hopelessly, hopefully, consciously and unconsciously tied down for as long as I can remember. I am a planner. I always have a plan. Even if the plan is to make a plan. I am a chronic list maker. If I don’t write a to-do list in the morning, you can forget about it. I am admittedly a self-imposed box dweller – never ever have I ever allowed myself the freedom to really think outside the imaginary box I’ve placed myself in – until now.

In the middle of the desert, though my feet may get burned, I am fearlessly taking a step outside the box. I am coloring outside the lines, I am embracing the freedom of possibility, and for once in my life, I’m being selfish. There, I said it – and I’ll say this too – I’m not sorry. There are too many things I haven’t done yet, too many places to go, people to meet, lessons to learn, pages to turn… Freedom is free, and I’m cashing it in - because I can, and because I need to. There is a sweet sense of liberation that comes from allowing yourself to just let things be – Paul McCartney was really onto something there.

I looked at this cactus my last morning in Arizona and spent a moment acknowledging and appreciating just how much we are the same. The desert is a place of survival, and at the end of the day, I’m a survivalist. I have no problem gritting my teeth and pushing through droughts, although I do occasionally find myself wishing it was merely water I thirst for. I will continuously wait patiently, weather the storm, find restoration in the downpour, and sustain myself until the next storm blows through without complaint or need. The odds are not often in my favor, so self-preservation is second nature. There are a lot of things about me that act as armor. I am well aware I’ve spurred people along the way - for that I am deeply sorry. But, on the days that I’m able, I really do try to branch out and give a little bit of whatever it is I have to offer this world and the people in it.

Her column closes brilliantly with this: “Sometimes flowers grow in the cracks of the sidewalk and a grain of sand becomes a pearl. Sometimes people really do “walk the talk” and care about the “greater good”. Sometimes people survive the un-survivable and conquer the un-conquerable. Sometimes the painting turns out to be a Picasso and the rock is really a diamond. Sometimes the underdog wins. As it is with many things – disappointment comes down to attitude. So every day I try to remember: hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and look for the magic.” – Stephanie Anne Koehler

I always look for inspiration in unexpected places, but this time, inspiration unexpectedly found me. To me the magic is in the mirage. What if what I’ve been looking for isn’t something that can be obtained? What if I spend my whole life so focused on the destination that I disregard the journey? Therein lies displaced disappointment. Real disappointment happens – its unavoidable - but I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to waste being unjustly disappointed. Instead, I will be a believer in the flower, the grain of sand, the rock, and the underdog - and perhaps most importantly - I will give myself the freedom to look for the magic in what's in front of me instead of being disappointed in what's not.

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