Everybody has a comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable. Unless.
If you go through life without ever being challenged, you will never grow. If you don’t experience new things, you will never learn. If you don’t seize opportunities when they present themselves, you may never fully live.
Growing and learning and living can be quite terrifying. You might have to force yourself along that path. But I guarantee you that the very best times in your life will be those where you start off not feeling particularly safe. It’s important to find your unsafe place.
I’m not talking about wandering dangerous neighborhoods alone at night. I’m not urging you to enter a lion’s den wearing a T-bone steak necklace. Don’t go rob a bank.
But take leaps of faith. Take risks. Allow yourself to fail spectacularly. Experiment. Carpe that diem. Do something you never thought you would do.
Open yourself up to the possibility that your comfort zone can be expanded. Explore those unsafe places. Make them your own.
More and more studies are showing that how you answer that question will accurately determine whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. If you accept that as a given, then we are in a very scary point in history, because I can’t imagine anyone or anything that would make any of us change your mind about how we answer that question.
If you think the world is not a safe place, well, then, it wouldn’t be very safe for you to change your mind, now, would it? On the other hand, if you think it is a safe place, then you are more flexible about new concepts, new knowledge, new ways of seeing the world and the way we choose to live in it, and I can’t imagine anything making you give that up, either.
Think about this from a political standpoint. If the world isn’t safe, then immigrants can’t be trusted and should be walled off. Vaccinations can’t be trusted. We should stick with age-old traditions. Gender roles should remain rigid. We should all have guns. These are all political issues that stem from our worldviews.
And once you’ve read that, hop on over to take this intriguing test. It consists of 27 questions that have nothing to do with politics, but your answers will quite accurately predict your politics regardless. It’s pretty much based on the same theory, only it determines one’s level of disgust. And that’s a little scary, don’t you think? (The results said that my brain is 74 percent Democrat. That’s because the only thing that disgusts me to any degree at present is the current administration. I’m surprised that I didn’t show up as 110 percent Democrat. Still…)
So, if the way we all see the safety of the world isn’t likely to change, and if it’s true that that pretty much spells out our political party, then that means we can count on being polarized from here on out. Because we’re already polarized. That means that this divisiveness and gridlock will be nearly impossible to get past. In essence, nothing of note will ever get done.
That makes me tired. And it makes me sad. But I’m really glad to be in the group that sees the world as a basically safe place. It must be terrifying to think otherwise.
I have zero desire to be a parent. I have no idea what it’s like, and I don’t want to. But I do know that if I had become a parent, there are certain things that I would have never done.
Sometimes I look back on my childhood and wonder how I ever made it to adulthood. My mother was an amazing human being. You’d have loved her. Everybody did. I’d never be writing this post if she were still alive. But I have to say that some of the choices she made with regard to my upbringing leave me absolutely speechless now that I’m looking back at them as an adult.
I won’t even get into the whole looking-the-other-way-while-I-was-sexually-abused thing. That’s a subject for another day. I’m just too worn out to even tackle that topic.
No. Today I remembered something that makes my adult eyes widen in horror, and sorry, I need to vent. So here goes.
When I was about 8 years old, my mother, my stepfather and I went camping. We had a little trailer and we stayed in a very nice campground. So far, so good.
But after we got there, the campground manager approached us and said that a violent offender had escaped the local prison and police would be searching the area, so we should probably stay in our trailer and lock the door. No sooner had he said that when we saw a helicopter fly overhead with a spotlight. The guy was close.
So we sat in the locked trailer. I don’t know how long we were in there. I was 8, so it seemed like an eternity. My mother was content. You have never seen anyone get lost in a book the way that woman could. My stepfather, too, was content. He fell asleep sitting up, as he was wont to do. The man spent very little time conscious, which suited me right down to the ground. I, on the other hand, was bored silly.
I guess my mother finally got sick and tired of my whining, so she let me sit outside at the picnic table. She kept the door open, but locked the screen door. Safety first, I suppose. For them, at least.
It was pitch black outside. I saw police flashlights in the woods in the distance. I was fascinated by the helicopter.
Then, out of the darkness, I saw a scruffy man approaching. Suddenly I was aware of my vulnerability. I went to the screen door and whispered, “Mom…”
I didn’t want to draw his attention, in case he was the bad guy and he wasn’t heading specifically to our site. I didn’t want him to notice me. And being the respectful child that I was, I also didn’t want to insult him with my fear if it turned out he was one of the good guys. I whispered again. “Ma…”
She was lost in her book. And her parental radar, which was feeble at the best of times, was apparently switched off. My stepfather slept on.
The guy was getting closer. I was terrified. Even after all these years, I can feel my heart beating a little faster just thinking about it. “Maaaaaaaa…” I hissed.
When she finally looked up, I was clawing at the screen door and the man was looming over me.
“You should get your kid inside, Ma’am. It’s not safe out here.”
So she unlocked the screen door and let me in.
And then she yelled at me for not saying something.
It was awful then, but I didn’t grasp how outrageous the situation was, because stuff like that happened all the time to me. I still have a hard time feeling safe to this day.
But from an adult perspective… damn! Who does that? What mother does that?
I grew up always having cats. So imagine my surprise when I went away to college, and my eyes stopped itching and my nose stopped running. Holy crap. I’d been allergic to cats that whole time and didn’t even realize it. It was just status quo for me.
Similarly, people have been telling me my whole life that I’d feel different when I got married. I didn’t believe them. I mean, I’m an adult. I know myself really well. And I’ve been in two long term relationships. So why would this be any different?
And yet, it is. It’s completely and utterly different. Why is that?
It had been confounding me for a few days. So, one day while sitting on my drawbridge, I decided to do some inner dialogue with myself to try to get to the bottom of this feeling. What’s changed?
After meditating on it for a bit, I figured it out. And It brought tears to my eyes. Because here it is in a nutshell: For the first time in 53 years, I’m not afraid.
And I’m not just talking about feeling more financially secure because of our combined incomes. (Although, yes, that’s a part of it. We are saving a fortune in insurance and utilities and in so many ways it’s insane. You don’t realize how much the capitalist system is stacked in favor of married couples until you join that elite group.)
But that’s only a small part of it. Here’s what’s huge: I had been living in fear for so long that I didn’t even realize that free-floating anxiety had always been in the very air I was breathing.
Fear of spending the rest of my life alone. Fear of dying on the weekend and it being days before anyone found my body. Fear of getting so sick that I couldn’t call for help. Fear that this painful loneliness would eventually kill me. Never feeling completely safe.
For the first time in my life, I feel like someone has my back. Always. Unfalteringly. There’s someone I can count on, and someone who can count on me. That’s incredibly new. Before, if I screwed up, I was on my own.
And if I triumphed, I was on my own, too. You don’t realize how freakin’ lonely that feeling is until you actually have someone to share the triumphs with. And that makes me really excited about the future!
The fact is, I’m part of a team now. A mutual admiration society of two. We are each other’s roofs and foundations. While past relationships have dragged me down, this one lifts me up, and if we go down, we’ll go down together, and climb back up together, too.
It seemed as though in past relationships I had to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. In this one, we are more equally balanced. We work toward the future together, and we want to go in the same direction.
So yes, this realization brought tears to my eyes, and they were complex tears, indeed. Tears of joy for the amazing place I find myself in now, and tears of sadness for the person I was a month ago, who had absolutely no idea how afraid she always had been.
If you’re lucky enough to be on a winning team for life, go and hug that person right now. Right this minute. And never let go. Because that connection is every bit as precious as the air that you breathe.
For the first time in many, many years, I will not be ringing in the new year all alone at work. This is not because after 16 years as a bridgetender I’ve earned a certain level of seniority. No. It’s simply because this time around, the holiday just happened to fall on my regular day off.
I’m reminded of that postal motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Yeah. Except they get holidays off. Bridgetender’s don’t. And they are some of the most truly dedicated people in the world. Despite that, most of you don’t even realize we exist.
So today I want to wish the bridgetenders of the world a Happy New Year. For those who endure poorly heated and/or air conditioned rooms, Happy New Year. For those who shovel and de-ice sidewalks, Happy New Year. For those who get covered in grease and motor oil, hose down pigeon poop and shovel pigeon corpses, Happy New Year. For those who have to stay late when their relief doesn’t show up, for those who have prevented suicides, for those who have pulled people out of wrecked or burning cars, for those who call 911, and for those whose own cars get vandalized, Happy New Year.
For those who keep you safe, even when you don’t realize you are in danger, Happy New Year. For those who have to think on their feet and sometimes get in trouble for it, Happy New Year. For those who are outrageously underpaid and mistreated by their employers (I’m thinking of Florida, in particular, here), Happy New Year. For those who keep the city’s traffic, in all its many forms, flowing efficiently, Happy New Year.
For those who stand in plain sight and yet seem to be invisible (and still keep the intimate conversations they overhear to themselves), Happy New Year. For those who occasionally find the loneliness hard to take, Happy New Year. For every bridgetender who sits in a tower looking at a bullet hole in the window (which is most of us), and wonders when it will happen again, Happy New Year. For those of us who have been pelted with eggs and tomatoes and pumpkins and beer bottles, Happy New Year. For those who have nightmares about some of the horrible things we’ve seen, Happy New Year.
But I especially want to thank those who show up day in and day out, and take pride in their jobs, often without acknowledgement. To me, you all are heroes. Please know that someone really does see you.
Somewhere, there really ought to be a monument.
Here’s the most amazing thing about being a bridgetender: In spite of all of the above, many of us truly love our jobs. I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is who I am.
Happy New Year to all of the forgotten ones out there. And many, many more.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie “Pleasantville”, I highly recommend it. A boy from the 1990’s is obsessed with a sitcom from the 1950’s called Pleasantville. It’s your typical show of that era, showing a world that never actually existed, in black and white, where the mother wears pearls and high heels to do housework, the father gives sage advice and is highly respected, and the children are well mannered and, well… pleasant. But when 1990’s boy suddenly finds himself in Pleasantville, he starts to realize that perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I seem to be living in Pleasantville since I recently bought my house. It’s in an isolated little valley where all the neighbors know each other, and everything feels safe and clean and drama-free. Everyone has a dog. I’m even on a first name basis with the mailman and the local convenience store clerk. It’s this oasis of calm, with each of us in our very own cute little houses.
At a time when the wider world seems ever more chaotic and scary, I love going home to my little valley. It’s like taking off shoes that are two sizes too small. Finally, a chance to wiggle my toes.
I love living in this fantasy land, and I’m going to do my best to maintain it for as long as I can. Are cracks forming in the façade? Well, yes. A few people in the neighborhood drink probably more than is warranted in certain situations. But so far, they’re happy when they drink, and I like them, and it’s really none of my business. One neighbor is passively aggressively critical of my benign neglect of my yard. Oh well. And I can’t get a decent cell phone signal to save my life.
But you know, in the overall scheme of things, those are problems I can live with. I love my little neighborhood. Just don’t expect me to wear high heels while I do housework. In fact, wouldn’t even count on me doing housework on a schedule that makes sense to anyone other than myself.
I’ve been looking for you for years. I often wondered if you were right under my nose and I just wasn’t seeing you, or if I wasn’t looking in the right place. More than once I thought I saw you, and you just couldn’t or wouldn’t see me. I always wondered if you were reading my blog, which was the only way I knew how to show myself to the world.
Did we pass each other on the street without recognizing each other? I’d look into the faces of strangers, hoping they’d see me, really see me, and consider me worth the effort. I’m sure I looked like every other face in the crowd, but inside my head I was screaming, “Where are you?”
It’s been a long, lonely, painful slog. I know you’ve been looking for me, too. If you’re reading this, I’m just glad you’re finally here. All during the search, precious time was passing; this was time I could have been spending with you. It felt like such a missed opportunity.
Every time I saw something new, I wanted to share it with you. Every time I got good news, I wanted to tell you. Every time I hit a rough patch, I wished you were there to comfort me. And there were a lot of amazing experiences I passed up, simply because I didn’t want to go it alone. I hope we still have time to do those things. I hope you’ll want to.
All I’ve ever wanted, really, was someone to travel with, and take naps with, and be playful with and have intelligent conversations with. I’ve wanted someone brave enough to win over and love my psycho dog as much as I do (that alone will weed out the vast majority). I’ve wanted someone who looks forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing him.
I wasn’t looking for glamor or perfection, just mutual acceptance. I want us both to be able to be ourselves. I want someone who gets me. I want us to be able to count on each other. I had that once, and it was abruptly taken away. (I just hate mortality, sometimes.) I miss it.
I want to create a safe and peaceful harbor, together. So if you’re reading this, thank you for showing up. I’m sorry for almost having given up on you. I should have had more faith. But having said that, what took you so long?