A Heightened State of Consciousness on the Uptown A

I’ve always found it fascinating that in a city of approximately 1.5 million people, very few individuals are aware of anyone other than themselves. Irritating, actually.

Yes, irritating is a much better way to describe how I felt one evening after work last week when I hopped on a crowded uptown-bound subway (pardon the redundancy) and had to say “excuse me” when a stranger stopped abruptly in the doorway—completely oblivious to the fact that there were other people behind him.

This was a rather mundane occurrence, yet I felt as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut at least 70 percent of my nerves to shreds. How hard is it to observe proper subway protocol? There are signs plastered all over each train, AND the conductors remind us to step all the way into the train every five minutes!

Flighty as it sounds, I’m grateful for that moment. Stay with me a moment, because at the risk of sounding too much like a New Age hipster, I realized something paramount to my life as a New Yorker: everybody in this city is just like me!

And who gets on a person’s nerves more than themselves?

It is often said that “we are our own worst critics,” or that what we dislike about others is merely a reflection about what we don’t like about ourselves, and blah, blah, blah. I suppose I shouldn’t take it too lightly. After all, I’m certainly guilty of being irritating on the subway at times… and in public spaces in general. It’s hard not to be on an island where space is limited and personalities are famously abrasive.

One instance that immediately comes to mind happened a few months ago on a rainy winter morning. I planted myself on a South Ferry – bound 1 train, and as much as I dislike riding local, I was just glad to no longer be exposed to the dreariness of outside.

Manhattan winds always seem to tear apart my umbrellas, so I finally put in the extra money to buy one that was larger and sturdy—even if they are a pain to carry around. There I was, sandwiched between two strangers (a novelty, I know!) and an almost unwieldy umbrella sticking out of the purse on my lap.

WHOOSH!

The man standing in front of my whirled around with a panicked look on his face. I in turn, became anxious as I waited to see what was wrong. Then I saw the embarrassing truth: the handle of my obnoxiously long umbrella was stabbing him square in the seat of his pants.

“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry!” I pulled my purse in closer to my body as quickly as I could and prepared myself to receive a punishing string of obscenities as payment for being so careless.

To my surprise, the expression on his face softened into a smile.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

I let out a deep sigh of relief. Which brings me back to the Uptown A.

The man I initially described was probably like me— hardworking and just leaving his job; utterly exhausted. While it’s certainly true that nobody is harder on ourselves than we are, I want to put a positive spin on it, because the reverse of my earlier statement is also true. The same way a person may get on my nerves because there is a very real possibility I may possess the same undesirable trait, seeing the good in others tells me more about my lovely qualities.

Our views into others are simply reflections of what is deep within ourselves.

That is how I will strive to view others the next time somebody cuts me off, pushes me without apology, or refuses to let me through in a packed subway station. After all, if a complete stranger could forgive me for giving him an unwelcome rectal exam, I can certainly exercise patience with everyone else.

There’s This Little Thing Called “Learning…”

Why is it so natural for me to think that I just OUGHT to have everything figured out?

Since the unexpected death of stepfather last month, I am determined to do everything I’ve always wanted to but put off due to my nerves, idealist dreams of perfection, or sheer laziness. My force-of-nature cousin recently shared a post on her Instagram page—a variation of the Michael Landon quote:

“Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows.”

Boy, do I know it.

That’s why at 6:30 on a Wednesday evening, I found myself sweaty and out of breath from sprinting from work —to the subway— to what was to be my first Spanish conversation class in three years. Since childhood I’ve dreamed of travelling around the world…and in that fantasy I always knew at least two other languages besides English.

Sure, I’d taken the recommended language courses in high school and college—Spanish, of course—totally enamored with the mind-expanding richness that comes with learning new forms of communication. However, I rarely tried to strengthen my skills outside of class by conversing with a native speaker.

No, no, no. I was far too embarrassed by my gringa accent (among other things) for that.

Kind of like buying a fabulous new outfit and never taking it out of your closet for fear of how others will perceive you in it. Silly, right? (Heh, but I’m guilty of that too…)

Connecting my thoughts in Spanish once more proved to be difficult, but not as hard as I had figured considering the time gap in my training. Yes, everything was A – OK. Until it wasn’t.

The course instructor handed out a worksheet for us to complete and discuss the answer in roughly ten minutes. I looked down in horror —

“I’m afraid I don’t know any of these words,” I mumbled when it was time for the review.

“There’s this thing called ‘learning,’ you know,” he said gently.

I laughed. My classmates laughed. He laughed too, which only made me laugh harder, until the lightness of the room induced a roaring guffaw in me that arose from deep within my spiritual core.

He was right. And it was such an obvious fact, at that! Actually, he hadn’t expected any of us to know the words on the sheet.

After that life lesson wrapped in an academic one, I pushed the envelope. Two days later, as uncoordinated as I am, I walked into a beginner’s hip hop class.

The me before these experiences last week would have described my performance that night as a disaster. Just as I was about to lose heart in the class, my effervescent teacher fell into a spell of sharing too much information—a trait that she proudly laughs off.

“My therapist told me, and I’ve been seeing a therapist for a quite a number of years, there are three skills every human being should possess…in essence,” she said.

“The ability to (1) love, (2) be productive, and (3) be okay with uncertainty.”

I always count it a blessing when I meet people who are free enough to be so candid about their lives with complete strangers. There is always a tiny gift hidden inside their truth. From that moment, I was able to deal with the inevitable uncertainty of the choreography from lack of dance training while learning to be present in the moment. I now reflect fondly on my first dance-class-turned-therapy-session.

I look forward to the day when my walk to the studio becomes a strut.

Vamos a bailar en la vida!

Birth, Death and the New Spring Cleaning

I’ve only posted three blog entries on the Huffington Post – including this one—and they all seem to be about one thing: human frailty. My birthday was at the end of last month, so it’s only normal that I take a good long look at my mortality, right?

To think about the fact that one day I will no longer be here, what kind of legacy I want to leave, and oh, I’m such a failure for not being where I want to be career wise.

I’m twenty-four.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiing! Riiiiiiiing!

Reluctant to open my eyes on the first morning of April, I braced myself. Something had to be wrong… it would explain my restlessness the night before. I sleepily reached across my bed to answer my cellphone and received the news that my stepfather was dead.

What on earth is happening, anyway? It’s as if suddenly death is all around us—around me. It was always there, I suppose, but I’m only just now receiving the memo. The one’s that I love seem to be dropping like flies. If it’s not organ failure, it’s cancer, if it’s not cancer, it’s something else. Each time, it doesn’t make any sense.

I now go about my days in a near constant state of panic, fearful that fate will soon take my mother away from me. Or worse, that I will be taken away from her. She’s been the pillar of so many; and very few people are able to be there for her.

(Isn’t that the way it goes? Typical. Human nature. Hmph.)

The idea of leaving her on this earth to face darkness is incredibly heartbreaking, yet something I have absolutely no way of preparing for.

My stepfather didn’t.

That’s the thing about death. When it’s over, you haven’t a clue! It’s the people who love you that are left behind to suffer, and such thoughts are largely shaping my current grief process.

There are moments when I find myself so angry I can’t see straight—how dare he leave us! How dare he put this burden on my mother while he somewhere resting comfortably? I want my anger to wake him up on the other side and send him back to live. Other times I’m in complete shock—he’s really not coming back.

Most days, however, I find a single thought replaying itself in my mind: Chris hadn’t a single iota that March 31 would be his last full day on earth. If he had, what would he have done differently?

Perhaps nothing. He went about his final day as usual and spoke to my mom approximately one hour before having a massive heart attack not even his doctors could have predicted.

Meanwhile, life doesn’t simply come to a halt out of convenience. When all was said and done I had to return to the mundane struggles of the average millennial—and what am I dealing with? A job that doesn’t pay enough, crippling anxiety and horrendously low self-esteem that manages to sneak in through the back door of my mind every so often.

For the sake of my own happiness in the finite time I have on this planet, I need to love and let go. Love life and others; let go of any and everything that does not serve me.

When it comes right down to it, do I really want to spend precious time on this earth thinking about the people who aren’t there for me? The random people in life who speak unnecessarily harshly because THEY just don’t get it?

The real question becomes “how can I live today?”…Swiftly followed by “what will make me happy right now and how can I do it?” Like many, I am guilty of putting off things that I could accomplish right now out of fear that it won’t be perfect.

Enough. I’m cleaning house and taking out the trash.

Life is too short, and I just don’t have the time.

 

In Memory of Christopher L. Horton