As I rolled up to the stop light, she looked me right in the eye. This was the moment, the choice was mine.
Six hours earlier I selected the largest of the three Honeycrisp apples lined up in a row in the refrigerator. They were like autumn gold and cost a pretty penny. I pressed it to my nose and delighted in the aroma, my mouth watering as I anticipated my favorite Fall flavor. I washed it, polished it and set it in my bag for the return trip later in the afternoon, a favorite traveling snack and I could already taste it. Anticipating the juiciness, I grabbed an extra napkin. Packed for the trip, I set out for the day.
The hour-long drive through the countryside past still blue lakes and through rolling farmland only partly soothed my inner being. It took effort to see the beauty and allow my normal sense of wonder to bubble up. No bubbles today, just heaviness.
“I’ve got to find my way back to my best self,” I said to the eyes in the rear-view mirror. Despite the beauty all around me, my mind was a jumble of concern, sadness, anxiety and fear. On a day like today, I needed my mom and the comfort of the church in which I was raised so off I went, over hill and dale, seeking refuge.
The welcome reception as I arrived at my destination felt wonderful. Good people, excellent conversation, fellowship, singing, kindness, a thoughtful message and music. A sense of place and familiar ritual was just what I needed. Time with my village. A haven in the storm. My mood lightened somewhat, though persistent anxiety would not entirely ebb.
After lunch with mom and much conversation, I pointed the car toward home anticipating the sunny hour-long drive, feeling the weight of that perfect apple at the bottom of my bag. My belly was full but the apple beckoned. Maybe I would wait 10-15 miles before I took my first bite.
A few minutes later I exited the freeway and approached the stop light which had just turned red. “Great. This will take a while,” I sighed to myself. As I rolled to a stop at the top of the ramp, she looked me right in the eye. Her clothing was dusty. He cheeks were hollow, the bright sun was in her eyes and her knuckles were skinned. Homeless, please help, read the sign she held to her chest. She took several slow steps along the road side past the many cars awaiting the next green light. I looked down. Ashamed, I looked up then nodded and smiled.
“God Bless you,” she mouthed as we made eye contact. Then she looked away. This was the moment, the choice was mine.
My right hand went into the bag on the passenger seat and my left hand lowered the window.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said with heartbreaking ferocity as she took uneven steps toward me that embodied relief.
I handed her the apple which she immediately brought to her nose just as it went to mine several hours earlier. I saw myself.
“God Bless you, ma’am,” she nodded.”Thank you very much.”
As she took the first bite I could see the sweetness reflected in her whole body. The juice I had anticipated ran down her mouth and chin and her eyes closed with pleasure. Again, I saw myself. Then the light turned green and my car traveled westward for the next hour. She traveled with me too in my thoughts and lingers with my now.
There in the west-bound turn lane, I found an answer, a nudge and a new perspective. For today. For tomorrow. For the next four years and for forty years beyond that.
There is so much to do. The need is so great. There is no time to waste. It is time to reclaim my very best self. The world needs that more than my anxiety and fear.
As Elizabeth Gilbert reminds me, fear will invariably be my companion in life. But fear does not get to navigate. Fear does not get to drive. (Fear does not even get to touch the radio or temperature settings.) With fear and anxiety at the wheel, I cannot see outside myself. Nothing changes. In fact, things get worse while I twist myself in knots. With fear at the wheel I am a shell of myself.
My long-held hopes are still there within me. The needs of the world have definitely not gone away. There is much to do. It may be more challenging but it still needs doing. Today, I reclaim my Best Self and firmly take the wheel.