Author’s Note: it’s the first day of autumn, my favorite season, which means summer is officially over… at least in other parts of the country. Here in Houston, today’s high is 92° with an average humidity of 90%. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see that as a sign of being okay. God have mercy on us all.
Last week, a cold front moved through Houston and a friend–let’s call her Taylor Moon–and I decided to eat our breakfast outside, toting our laptops out onto the patio behind our company’s building so we could munch on breakfast tacos and talk without being overheard.
Backstory: Taylor Moon is new to our company and is still figuring out what she wants for her career and how to communicate that to management.
More backstory: Career discussions are a challenge for me. I’ve talked before about the difficulties I have in this area. I’m always afraid my career is “going nowhere” and I’m wasting my effort and my life. My anxiety around that displays itself in a complicated simultaneous internal monologue of the defensive (oh well, I didn’t want that anyway) and the offensive (SCREW YOU GUYS, I’M GOING HOME), neither of which I can actually say out loud at work. It’s exhausting, and I’m working on it.
I tried to focus on the bright future I saw for Taylor, who’s one of the smartest and most driven people I’ve ever met, and ignore the dismal one I saw for myself. Suddenly, Taylor leaned forward, her hands clasped in her lap and her lovely face intent. “Oh look!” she said, and I glanced down to discover that a dragonfly had landed on my laptop.
“Wow,” I said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one this close before.” If I had, anyway, it hadn’t been a memorable experience.
I was about to return to the conversation we had been having, still focused on her bright (and my dismal) future, when she said in a soft but intense voice, “These things keep happening. I think it’s a sign.”
I Think It’s a Sign
Living in Houston, insects are a thing–and I’m not just talking about the huge roaches that hang out in trees around here. It seems like every year has an invasion of a different kind. One year, my apartment was invaded by ladybugs, and I made a point to carry them each outside to safety until I finally just started viewing them as nonpaying roommates. Grasshoppers made an appearance another year, and I urged my cat to “sic em, Elizabeth Bennet” while she stared at me in boredom. The most annoying infestation was the year that fleas set up residence in the lawn outside my building, sticking to my shoes and attacking Elizabeth Bennet once they made it inside. (It kind of served her right for not doing anything about the grasshoppers, but an intensive flea counter-strike took care of the problem.) And this year was lovebugs, filling the air like dark snowflakes and smearing on every surface imaginable, from your skin to your car’s windshield.
Even though Houston’s infestations have always smacked of the plagues of Egypt, however, I’ve never been inclined to view them as signs.
“What do you mean?” I asked, studying the dragonfly. My brain immediately took the scientific route and began wondering what could have made the little guy venture from the waterway 20 yards away. Had I accidentally smeared some breakfast taco on my keyboard? Was this a “sign” I needed to disinfect my laptop? Should I bother, since my career wasn’t going anywhere anyway and I’d probably be turning my laptop in soon anyway?
She kept her voice soft so she didn’t scare the dragonfly. “Ladybugs have been hanging out on my window at home,” she said in what initially seemed like a change of subject. “And a butterfly flew straight into my face the other day. I just like what it means.”
I was now at a complete loss. “What does it mean?” I asked, convinced I must have missed some crucial part of the conversation.
She paused, putting her words in order in her mind. “It means… I’m okay,” she finally said simply. “It means I’m the kind of person who can have breakfast with a friend and notice a beautiful dragonfly, and I’m okay.”
It Means I’m Okay
I was staggered by her words. To move so quickly from anxious thoughts of the future to peaceful thoughts of the present moment left me a little unbalanced–and almost unbearably moved.
If being the kind of person who can have breakfast with a friend and notice a dragonfly is a sign of being okay, I realized, than that meant that I was okay, as well. And that probably means that I’ll continue to be okay. The future–always so frightening to me with its potential to be filled with a lifetime of disappointments–hasn’t happened yet. What had happened–and was happening–was that single, crystalline moment that Taylor–so smart and so driven–had noticed and brought to my attention.
Time slowed down as I finally looked around for the first time that morning. It was the first beautiful day of the season, finally cool enough for sweaters and hot tea. I was spending time and “being someone” with a beautiful soul. And a dragonfly with beautiful lacy wings had chosen to grace me with an up-close moment–the first of my life, that I could recall.
My anxiety turned into gratitude–both for that single moment and to Taylor Moon for pointing it out to me.
I was okay.
Look for Signs of Being Okay
It is so easy to get wrapped up in thoughts of the future. To look forward and wonder what will happen, and where you’ll be, and if you’ll be happy. If you’ll be okay. To focus on paying your mortgage and saving for retirement.
But if we’re mindful of the present, if we look around where we are, we can remind ourselves that we’re okay right now. In those moments, there’s nothing to worry about, nothing to plan for, nothing to do except enjoy what we have. Because all we really have is the present moment.
That’s what mindfulness means. If a well-lived life is made up of well-lived days, then mindfulness can help you make the most of not just every day, but every moment.
Try it sometime–stop and look around you right now and notice something beautiful. Think about what it means to be the kind of person who notices beautiful things in the every day. It means that you have a future of noticing beautiful things ahead of you, which means even though the future is scary, you’ll be okay.
It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
Much love. – Lindsay