A couple of weeks ago now (it feels like a lifetime), Max and I were stuck in a terrible snowstorm. It was the kind of snowstorm that brings down trees and turns DC roads into a mess. Like everyone else, we left the office early, but it wasn’t early enough. By the time we hit the roads, traffic was at a virtual standstill. My normal 25 minute commute lasted almost 6 hours.
But the point at which we arrived home is the end of the story. What is more fascinating is what happened in between.
For the first hour it felt like an adventure. We were moving along at a snail’s pace but we were certain we would make it home for dinner time. I dreamt of what I would cook and was comforted by the fire I would start, the cup of tea I would make within minutes of our arrival.
In the second hour, we started to get a bit itchy, but were certain that we would make it home for the Caps game on TV. The cup of tea turned into a glass of wine. I would need it after all this stop and go.
In the third hour it was clear that we would miss the start of the game, and that dinner would in fact be a long ways away. All the dreaming of tea and wine had made me thirsty. Max had fallen asleep in the car and everything on the radio began to feel old. We had moved barely 10 feet. I began to think we would be there all night. It was then that irritation and restlessness started to set in. Suddenly I was flooded with visions of being home in front of a warm cozy fire, a smooth glass of wine in my hand, the Caps game on the big TV and I wanted to scream and lay on my horn as though that would make the seas part. As I sat uncomfortably, munching on a donut that Max had earlier scavenged from the crevices of the back seat, misery snuck into the passenger seat and taunted me. “You’re not home” it whined. “This is miserable.”
And then something happened that saved me. I learned that the power was out at home.
Transformers had blown and the entire neighborhood was out. The house was cold and dark. There would be no tea, no Caps game, no warm dinner. All my visions of what could have been went up in smoke and I suddenly saw my situation much more clearly.
I was warm. There was an interesting story on the radio. Max was dozing in and out, but relatively content snuggled up in a sleeping back in the back seat. When he woke up from his naps we chatted about things we rarely had time to talk about. While we didn’t have a full tank, we had plenty of gas. The woman in the car in front of me was chatty and kind and together we were moving the branches that fell in our path. The man in the car crawling along in the right hand lane was patient and funny and compassionate, checking in on Max. We could melt snow for water. The stale donuts in the back of the car had filled us up. There was in fact, nothing truly miserable about our situation.
Somewhere in between hour four and five, I had one of those epiphanies that make me feel so naive, like a too-smart schoolgirl, stung by the simplest of lessons she had missed. Rarely does my suffering arise from my life’s circumstances. It is not what my life is that causes me pain. More often than not, when I suffer, it it caused by my disappointment about what my life is not. After all these years, that teaching had never sunk in so profoundly, but rather it had floated about on the surface of my intellect. But suddenly, in the midst of that thick wet snow that promised to hold us hostage, a switch was flipped and I could no longer deny it.
As I turned off the traffic filled road and onto a snow choked side street, I breathed into the reality that we were Ok, more than OK in fact. And while I had no idea of what would happen next I was certain that everything seems to change, even if its slowly.
With the newness of my understanding settling, I felt a bit sheepish and even a bit childish in my complete lack of understanding. All these years, even as I had talked the talk about non-attachment, I find I wound the tendrils of my happiness firmly around visions of some false future and then whine when its somehow different.
Its a habit, a very hard one to break.
I am being gentle with myself now. It takes a lot of courage to admit that most of my pain and misery is truly just an illusion. I have nursed my suffering so for so many years. As I tended my own wounds I felt, I don’t know…. Complete. Worldly. Complex. Deep.
Thats not to say that my pain wasn’t real. Just that not all of it was necessary. And while there is grief that will be unavoidable, real sorrows and feelings of loss, I can save myself from a whole lot of manufactured hurt if I dare. I’d like to think there is infinite value in being able to see behind the veil of my own disappointment into the richness of my own magnificent life.