It was a Thursday afternoon last summer, and I was carrying a 30-pound box of books from the second floor to the first. We had a public event at work that day. The man with the dolly must have seen me in my black wedges and thought I looked like I was struggling. Because I was. But I just needed to hop in the elevator. I pressed the down button requesting the next elevator as the squat man with a large smile rolled the dolly next to me. I had never seen him before.
“Do you want to put that box on here?” he said and pointed to his dolly.
I hesitated. Yes, I thought. But isn’t that rude of me?
“Uhh…” I said, unsure of whether to accept help from a stranger.
“Go ahead,” he assured me. “I don’t mind.”
“Ask and thou shall receive,” I said, repeating a phrase my mom often misquotes from the Bible. “Thank you.” I relieved my burden and placed the box down on the dolly, and when the elevator doors opened, he tugged the top bar and wheeled the books inside.
“Where you headed?” He smiled.
“Down one floor. At least I’m not making you go all the way up to floor 7.”
“I have time,” he said, calm and relaxed for the amount of sweat he had on his forehead. “I don’t mind.”
When he dropped off the box near the book sale table a few minutes later, I thanked him, and truly meant it. I could have carried the box in the elevator, but by accepting his offer to help, something magical happened: I allowed myself a moment of connection with a stranger.
Here’s the thing—my last day of work is Friday. I quit my job, the one I had complained about. But the closer the last day gets, the more I understand that part of the joy of the job was working with a lot of people, both strangers and friends. I’m going to miss that. It worries me to think I may feel disconnected from the world because, as I wrote about previously, I don’t have another gig lined up.
It sounds freeing, and it is, to a certain extent. But this lack of a plan is driving both me and my new husband Joe crazy. Why? You tell me.
I am in the limbo of transition, where I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. And it is super scary. And frustrating. And exciting. I won’t have my work community, aside from joining them for the occasional lunch, or an institution to belong to. It feels wrong to not have our future mapped out. There are so many opinions about plan-making: Some people say you need a 5-year or even a 10-year plan; others say make a plan and hear God laugh.
While listening to the Women on the Road podcast a few days ago, I heard a woman named Lauren speak about her sad experience two month after getting married when her husband passed away. In order to cope with her grief, she took to the road in the van her husband had bought, and said one thing that has stuck with me:
All of these things that we had planned—planning our honeymoon, where we just wanted to save up a little more money; planning to renovate our kitchen, but we didn’t get around to doing it because of what had happened to him. I feel like a lot of our plans were a little too much in advance, and I really feel like we should just live in the present and not worry too much about the future. Life is so precious, and it can be taken away from you in an instant.
This is powerful stuff, coming from someone on the other side of loss. One that allowed her to re-examine her priorities.
She wishes they had lived more in the present moment. What does it even mean, really? In a society so focused on goals and job promotions and upgrades, what does living in the present look like?
The only thing that comes close that I have found, through a lot of personal effort, that it is simple enough. Smile and say hello to the garbage collector. Pick up the plastic bag floating by your feet, rather than walking by. Don’t wear ear buds while walking, and be open to having a brief laugh with the stranger at the bus stop. Give away your drink tickets at the National Zoo’s Halloween event because you’re cold and wet and don’t feel like drinking anymore, and relish the excitement that comes from the group of women as they thank you. Feel like you did something nice for someone else.
It’s not easy, but it is simple. Allow the man with the dolly to help you.
None of this requires any sort of 5-year, or even 5-minute, plan. It is spontaneous, which is what makes it intimidating at first. But my plan is to allow strangers to buoy me, to remind me that I am part of the world.
Whether or not I have a job, I am alive. I am breathing. I am connected.
Until next time,