Princeton Theological Seminary Conference

As an introduction to New Jersey, he fulfilled many of the stereotypes I have held through too many evenings watching bad crime shows. His cab was stained from sweat and luggage, even the ceiling fabric was torn and filthy.  While he drove not quite erratically, I was lulled into comfort only because of exhaustion. His english was second to a language my American ignorance couldn’t place. Only his eyebrows were visible to me, terribly unmanaged eyebrows that begged for notice, screamed for help as the hairs turned this way and that, reaching mostly downward in a slant that brought to mind harder times. I could only see his eyebrows in the rearview mirror, a device he seemingly ignore as he checked his phone for texts and directions and made calls to someone who was clearly debating the wrong side of an issue with him. He handled the cab like his eyebrows worked his face, jumping into other lanes and pushing his way up and over as he took me further from the airport. He didn’t speak to me, preferring those on his phone who knew his language and couldn’t see his hands even though he was jabbing and pointing as if they occupied the seat next to me. Welcome to New Jersey, his eyebrows told me. I sense your trepidation.

When not pointing and raising his hands to the heavens to underscore his position with his phone mate, he brought his hands to his mouth and chewed his nails. A cab driver  this outwardly anxious was driving me to my first writing conference, a place I was certain with each passing mile I had no business being. His eyebrows knew I was nervous, his nails told me they understood I was in way too deep.  Waiting for a sign, a signal that all was well with my soul, I could only see his hands with every nail chewed as far as possible and still he raised them to his mouth, hunting for a missed bit, considering there may have been some growth since the last stop light, a tiny edge he had to eradicate. My soul did not find comfort or reassurance in this cab.

During that anxious drive, I forgot all the signs and nudges and support that had brought me to this conference, I discarded them like the bits of fingernail my cabbie spat out onto his floor. I wanted something new with each moment to spur me on, a constant stream of encouragement to tell me this big thing was meant for me, that I was meant for it. In devaluing that foundation, I would never have enough signs, would never allow enough growth like the cabbies poor finger nails, if I looked to others for my affirmation. Would a chatty cab driver with a sparkling car really have meant I was worthy of this? Has it come down to that? Ridiculous when I step away but in the moments where anxiety likes to dwell, eyebrows that need a good plucking can mean too much and I forget to be kind to myself.

Stepping into new big territory is scary exciting and maybe worth chewing a nail or two. Removing the expectation that I do it all correctly and perform perfectly,  remember everything that is said and make the best connections, all hyperbole is at the root of the anxiety.  I am not the best or the perfect one, I am just here, checking out some seminars and talking to some people and seeing a beautiful campus. Practicing kindness to myself, a sentiment I now wish I had shared with my cabbie along with the tip I gave him. Surely that is more lasting than the money I offered, maybe not as immediately desired, advice from a stranger, who ever wants that? Still, be kind to ourselves, what wisdom rests there.

I have found many opportunities to practice self kindness and forgiveness as well, staying in a dorm on this magnificent campus. When I went away to college it was as a sophomore and I went straight into an apartment. Always envious of that dorm experience, all those girls building friendships and learning how to pee with someone right next to you, I finally now have my chance, if only for a week. I have learned to wake up without coffee immediately, to keep the key out to lock my door every time I exit, and to ask my neighbor for toothpaste because in dorms you do not leave you tube lying about. I have learned to forgive myself every time I have to dry my hands with toilet paper because I have yet again forgotten to take my towel into the bathroom with me, I am learning to be kind about how comfortable I have grown without even realizing all of  my luxuries. These small discomforts and disruptions remind me that I know nothing of actual suffering these days, or at least my suffering is minimal and internal and I can reach for tissues to dry my tears and fix another cup of coffee or pour a glass of wine as I choose. That is a very different suffering than most of the world. I understand the message the Spirit is sharing with me this week, anxiety and worry and the need for perfection, all these are emotions of choice for me. Kindness is also a choice, one I share with others but not as often with myself. My friend often tells be to be gentle with myself. Wisdom.

I listened to others stand bravely at the mic and read some of their soul out loud for strangers last night. They were met with kindness and no red pens to edit or scratch, no laughs erupted unless the material was intended to be humorous. Next time, I will sign up for an open mic slot, I will tell the next cabbie that I am going to a writing conference, I will tell him I am reading my stuff and I will remind us both to be kind to ourselves. And I will bring a spare tube of toothpaste.  What an amazing week, a gift of finding and owning my gifts.

 

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