Sometimes things that are obvious to other people take me years to get, and this is going to be one of them. In my mind, which is often a jumbled area not unlike our guest/art room after Christmas, comfort looks like being curled up with a blanket, uninterrupted by the potential perils of the world around me. And yet, over and over again, I have to learn that true comfort comes when I’ve walked through those perils and made it safely to the other side.
I’m not even thinking here about real danger as much as I am the scenarios I imagine and the crazy shenanigans I conjure up to navigate them. It’s like a bad version of “I Love Lucy” all in my head. It isn’t until I call Jodi in the middle of the day to discuss my plan for something that isn't even going to occur until the end of next week that I realize how far down the anxiety trail I’ve traveled in just a few short minutes. And it’s also her reassuring voice reminding me that it’s all going to be fine that keeps me away from that path much more than before I knew her.
I was reminded of all of this last week when we spent six days in Panama City, a place neither of us has visited before and about which—together—we knew hardly anything. A few people gave us advice based on their travels in Central and South America, but other than that, we were on our own. The phrase “on our own” really only makes me feel comfortable when it means reading a book on my couch wrapped in that aforementioned blanket. And even Jodi, whose first reaction is to see the best in every situation, was a little nervous on the first day when we headed out exploring.
We’re primitive souls, all of us. It’s scary out here in the world, trying stuff and
Within a half hour, we were in our usual I-don't-really-know-what-I'm-doing argument—the same one we’ve had in Florence, San Francisco, Taos, and even Sacramento. It involves getting a little lost or confused and then each of us reacting to that anxiety in our own individual not-so-fun fashion. Once that was out of the way, we could go on, making wrong turns, walking past the store we were looking for three or four times before we realized it was right there, and begging the other person to make the phone call to the hotel manager to ask about a tour of the Panama Canal.
Among other things, I’ve been reminded this week that part of traveling is the exhaustion that comes from just having to figure out how everything works.
It’s a great metaphor for real life. We work hard to navigate the thousands of tasks and relationships and skills we’ve set before ourselves, each cloaked in its own uncomfortable set of circumstances. It rarely occurs to us that we could spend less time trying to figure it all out and more time noticing the way the sunlight makes that yellow building look like it was made of butter.
As I said at the start of this, it’s no doubt clear and obvious to many people that true comfort resides in just being present in something, trying and surviving. There’s no preparing for comfort or happiness or wonder. There’s no getting ready for it, sweeping away all the possible obstacles I can dream up. There is only one foot in front of the other, through the maze, and out the other side, being sure to look up as often as possible to see that leaf nearly ready to drop off that tree, the cloud puffed up there, just above the horizon.
What better time to think of this than the first days of a new year, our symbolic chance to engage in a deeper and less fearful way with the world and the lovely people around us? It’s our time to understand on a more innate level that the frightening, uncomfortable thoughts about what might happen if we are fully present are actually in us, not in the situation. We’re primitive souls, each of us. It’s scary out here in the world, trying stuff and frequently failing. We long for the comfort of knowing it will all be OK.
So here’s to a new year for all of us, a year of carrying that comfort with us, bringing it like a salve to every hard and painful moment. Here’s to a year of stepping up instead of stepping back, knowing we will survive whatever happens, and being oh so grateful for the opportunity to be alive and in love with the world.