When I was a kid, I read the book The Amityville Horror. It scarred me for life. I am not kidding – when the movie came out, all my friends were keen to see it, but I knew better. Nothing had ever scared me like that book. There were several events that haunted me long after I finished reading. One of them was that the main character would wake up every night, look at the clock radio at his bedside, and see that it was 3:15 a.m. (It turned out that 3:15 was the estimated time that several grisly murders had taken place in the house).
After reading that book, I lived in fear of waking in the night to a clock that reads 3:15. Consequently, it seemed to happen with regularity through my teen years. Each time, I would lie awake listening to my own fearful breathing, waiting for something bad to happen: an apparition, the sound of a footstep or a crash in the next room. (It should probably be noted that I was afraid of the dark itself well into my adult years.) Eventually, I began to wonder: was something outside of myself waking me at 3:15? Was I subconsciously waking myself at 3:15 because I was focusing my fear there? Or was I waking at all times of the night but only remembering the 3:15 a.m. times because I had loaded that time with so much strong emotion?
When the only bad thing that ever occurred as the result of a 3:15 a.m. clock viewing were some seriously messed up dreams, I stopped paying attention. If it happens now that I wake at that time, I might take a moment to laugh at my youthful self, then roll over and go back to sleep.
Throughout my life there have been other – similar if far less sinister – examples. Recently, Big Coffee entered into a relationship with Oprah, resulting in new sleeves for each cup which bear motivational/inspirational Oprah quotes. In the course of a busy day, I’m grabbing sleeves and handing off coffees with no notice of the message printed there. However, when I did happen to focus, the same quote kept appearing over and over. “Your life is big. Keep reaching.”
Once I noticed this, I tried playing games to see if the experience would continue when I was intentionally looking for it – for example, I noticed that a sleeve was backwards in the dispenser, so I flipped it – and sure enough it said, “Your life is big. Keep reaching.” In a slow moment, I asked a coworker to name a random number less than 10. She said, “Six!” I pulled sleeves until I reached number six, which told me that my life is big.
As you might guess, I started wondering if there was a personal message here. I mean, I know that millions of these sleeves have been printed and handed out. It was obviously not the corporate intent to use them as a vehicle to speak directly to me. But was there some Other Intention out there, trying to send me a message?
“Your life is big. Keep reaching.” On the up side, this admonition suggests that it is important to keep striving to reach further and higher; to set your sights and ambitions beyond the ordinary and then go for it. On the down side, it could be taken as an indictment – that you are currently living small and need to step it up. The more I thought about it, the more confused I became as to what its meaning was for me. How big IS my life? How big is my life SUPPOSED to be? What exactly is Oprah talking about when she says “big” anyway? And don’t even get me started on “reaching”.
Before I quit my job and moved to Minneapolis, I told people that (in my experience) it takes at least a year to become truly acclimated and comfortable in a new city. July 1 was my one-year anniversary here. Which may shed light on why six words on a coffee sleeve were commanding so much brain power and reflection time from me. From Earth Day to Thanksgiving 2013, my life felt expansive. I felt I was on the cusp of creating a Big Life – which to my thinking meant one which would both incorporate the investment of my strengths and talents in meaningful endeavors AND would offer inspiration to others to make the necessary choices to invest similarly. With winter came the Polar Vortex, and my own personal vortex of anxiety and despair. I had forgotten to take into account that life doesn’t follow an uninterrupted upward trajectory.
No. In fact, the graph of a life is a crazy zig-zagged chart that may or may not make sense at first view. The unexpected happens. The disastrous and the exhilarating happen, and in between are all the moments sloping up to or down to those points. The trick is to learn how to accept with gratitude whichever part of the graph you’re on at this moment – without using that acceptance and gratitude as excuse to stand still. We tend to think that acceptance implies a cessation of striving. But in truth, they are not mutually exclusive.
In truth, achieving the life we want has to begin with where we are. Devaluing where you currently stand is a rejection of the beauty and gifts that are extant in your life. No matter how closely (or not) your current life matches the life you’ve imagined for yourself, there are worthy things in it right this minute. Things that are worth celebration. With my one-year anniversary as a Minneapolitan looming, I’m glad I remembered this.
And here’s something else. When I wake in the middle of the night, whether or not the clock reads 3:15 a.m., what I am thinking about is: how big my life already is; how big it can be; and what new ways I can strive to reach further. If you want an expansive life, as I do, you have to keep in mind that even expansion doesn’t happen at an uninterrupted rate.
With regard to the Oprah coffee sleeves, just yesterday I conducted an experiment to see if the “magic” would still happen. I reached into a brand new box of them, eyes closed, and selected one. Sure enough, it clearly stated that my life is big. And it admonished me to keep reaching. I’ve decided that there’s nothing supernatural happening here, that the only intention at work is my own. Truth be told, in navigating this life, my own intention is the only one that ever mattered anyway.