This Wednesday started like any other morning. I got out of bed, drank some coffee, contemplated “working from home” on account of the dusting of snow that crunched beneath my feet on the front stoop, but couldn’t justify a second day of it. In an effort not to make haste with my decision to journey out into the inches of snow, I sat down and finished a crossword, had a lovely conversation with the dog in which I provided all the dialogue, and packed myself a lunch before getting dressed and ready for work. I had ventured outside already, so I knew it was cold, but my car is less than 20 feet away from my house and my walk from the car to my office is similarly short, so I often find bundling up for these brief jaunts in the elements to be a waste of time. This morning was no exception. I did put on my winter coat, but no gloves, no scarf, no hat. This is Nashville, after all.
I loaded my arms with the things for the day, slid my phone into my zipper lined pocket, scraping the back of my hand as I compulsively checked to see if I had it, mere seconds after placing it there, turned the lock from the inside door handle, and pulled it shut behind me. As I walked to my car, I looked around and gave thanks for the beauty of a manageable snow and thought, “This must be how northerners feel all winter.” I approached the car, reached for the handle and waited for the beep that would mark the door’s acknowledgement of the key’s proximity, thus unlocking it from my pocket, or so I thought.
I reacted quickly, laying out my options and finding a dry spot on the driveway for my bags while I formulated a plan. Not even bothering to check if I had perhaps failed to lock the door or maybe even the backdoor, I grabbed my phone and began deliberating between getting an Uber or calling a friend. The closest Uber was 14 minutes away. It would take Claire that long to leave work and get to my house as well. Already quite cold and not willing to withstand 14 or even 4 minutes more, I buttoned my coat, stacked my Pyrex dish of leftover chili flat on the top of my computer bag, which freed up a hand that I could now stuff into my zipper-mouthed pocket, and started walking.
I live fairly close to the church where I work and I’ve done a lot of talking about how I could easily and should walk or bike to work sometimes. I’ve only actually done it once, but it was on my day off and I had left my car at work the night before, turning a wise life choice into tomorrow’s workout. The shortest route on foot is two miles and it involves walking on the Richland Creek Greenway that loops a golf course, one that I have circled countless times myself, though never fully dressed for work or carrying a bag that contained more than my BYOB to a friend’s house for dinner. Today, under my coat, I was fairly prepared for the elements with my sweater and skirt, tights, and boots (Okay, they’re booties. And they’re from the Vince Camuto outlet store, so this isn’t exactly an all-terrain situation.). With a Kate Spade tote bag on one shoulder and a vintage Louis Vuitton knockoff over the other, I wondered what other great wilderness wanderers and survivalists would think of me, should we meet in a strange cross section of shared illusory experience. Alexander Supertramp burned all his cash and social security card before heading into the wild. “No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes.” Check. The Revenant guy just wore fur from the stuff he killed, probably (haven’t seen it), which is kinda fancy like my bags so maybe I was on the right track after all.
In the stillness of that frigid morning, I was mostly alone. I met one or two other individuals who, based on their proper outerwear, were more intentional about their jaunts than I, but otherwise, the quiet solitude was eery. I’m usually alone on walks or runs but I traverse the worn path in the intentionally distracting company of whoever is speaking or singing to me through my earbuds. This morning, the cold temperatures had frozen my iPhone and my earbuds were in a knot on the TV cabinet, right beside my keys. Without the very fitting Bon Iver soundtrack I would have supplied to enhance the drama of this experience, I shuffled across the snowy bridges and dodged patches of slush that would take me down in a hot second. I noticed, with a white backdrop, how clearly I could see through to the golf course and thanked my body for never having to take one of those emergency mid-run bathroom breaks for which I had scouted out these very patches of bramble cover. I moved along and wiped tears from behind my glasses, in desperate search of significance beyond what was turning out to be a far less extraordinary morning than I had hoped.
I spent the rest of the day thawing out in my office, deeply aware that I had intentionally allowed the morning to be more difficult than it had to be. I could have paced around the driveway to keep myself warm for 14 minutes while someone came to pick me up. I could have knocked on the door of a number of my neighbors’ houses to wait inside. I could have called 100 other people. But I chose discomfort–and not just for a good story, as I admit to having done before. Perhaps, even before remembering it was Ash Wednesday, the penitential nature of the day bubbled beneath my skin, propelling me to act in this way– to deprive myself of something or to feign a rustic existence for 45 minutes. I believe that the Spirit calls us all in different ways, in different voices, to different things and, yesterday, without cognizant intention, I said yes to a call to break routine, to veer from comfort, to pay attention to the world around me and to the hear and listen to the desires within me that cry out in response.
For me, choosing the harder, messier, less comfortable path marks the hunger for experience that nourishes my creativity. My typical days involve a scrolling marquee of ideas upon which I could expound, but don’t; sometimes they earn some initial paragraphs in a now idle Pages document but usually, I condense them to 140 characters and move on to the next one. I quickly and easily talk myself out of doing a thing I love to do, whether it’s because I think it’s not worth the time or no one will read it or it’s never going to be as good as I want it to be. This morning, I invited something to rattle me, to shake me awake and to help me remember who I am.
And as much as I didn’t want to add to the flood of commentary about Ash Wednesday, but rather compose a silly overdone description of a how I survived the harrowing elements with only my wit and bowl of chili to sustain me, my Lenten reflection found me– mortal and broken and losing a staring contest with myself. I won’t be giving up anything for Lent this year (and will definitely be investing in a Hide-a-Key), but I’m grateful for mornings like this one when my propensity to be difficult opens a door to remember other parts of me. My eyes and ears are open, ready to learn, ready to search, ready to receive what is already before me. Ready to take a different route every now and then. Ready to do whatever it takes to hear that cry and to listen to it. Ready to trust and to say yes.