The following is a true story.
“The girl in the teal shirt, with the long blonde hair, is studying hard. And when she takes a break to gaze out the window she is working hard, even then, to not meet anyone’s eyes or connect in any way. The only other customer is a dark, small man whose attention is completely on his computer screen, though there are books and notepaper piled on the table all around him.
The woman in the corner puts down her book and stares at nothing for a minute before picking up her coffee cup and, pausing with it halfway to her lips, peering at its contents as if reading her future inside. She takes a small sip and returns the cup to its saucer. There are tears floating in her eyes. They do not overflow.
She takes a deep breath and refocuses her attention, turning her head so one ear is cocked toward the staff behind the counter, who are alternately joking and bickering. Outside the window, her eyes follow two women and a child in identical orange shirts, then shift to a thirty-something couple attempting to settle a large German shepherd into the back of their car.
This is what the woman in the corner is thinking: She is thinking about one summer back when she was in college, and they had a small apartment downtown. There was amazing art on the walls, which belonged to the professor who owned the place. She remembers the white walls, wood floors and the paintings. She remembers the long summer of wasting time, of endless talking and smoking, of quick walks down the block to the bar or the Maid-Rite. She remembers feeling the life ahead of her will be anything but ordinary.
She knows it is useless to wish for the past to come back, to wish for a different chance, to have been a different person. That doesn’t stop her from wishing it. Doesn’t stop her from wishing she had chosen differently. It occurs to her that she can choose differently for herself now, that beginning with this moment she can try for something other. But then she thinks of the work piled on her desk. She thinks of the bills that must be paid. She thinks of her timid nature, her indecisiveness, and she can’t believe in her own ability to change. She thinks, “I am like that German shepherd, acting like I have a choice when, in actuality, I am always going to sit in the back seat.”
And she knows she can never say these things. She knows that anyone hearing these thoughts would argue or, worse, console her. Instead, she picks up the pen and opens the notebook in front of her.”
April 22, 2007. I wrote this story in my journal as I sat in Starbucks on a Saturday or Sunday morning telling it to myself. I thought of it yesterday, when I happened to stumble onto a Tony Robbins video clip. Now, I’ve never really paid attention to Tony Robbins, motivational speaker extraordinaire, so I was surprised to find myself listening carefully. Paraphrasing what he said, “Suffering doesn’t come from life events. Events happen. Suffering comes from the meaning we attach to them. The story we attach to the event is the secret.”
In the story I used to tell about myself, I was a sad observer of life. I’d never merit the front seat. My “glory days” were behind me in an apartment in downtown Dubuque, Iowa circa 1983. I never really liked that story, but I thought it was the only one I had. After all, you cannot go back and change the past.
But I can change the story. The woman, sitting in the corner of the coffeeshop can, after picking up her pen, can write:
Snap out of it! Its a beautiful day. No need to brood over gloomy thoughts of the past when you have today. Today, anything is possible. The more you believe that, the more you know in your heart it is true, the more the impossible will take shape in your life. Who you have been has led to who you are. And who you are is someone who will put down this pen and walk out into the sunshine.”
We can always change the story. I know, because my story has changed substantially. You should try it. I can promise you this — it is way more fun to be the author of your story than just another character in it! To quote another great motivational performance (the band Sugarland): “…find out what it means to be the girl who changed her mind and changed the world…”