Chicken Little Grows Up

Fearful

It was just a text; an invite from a friend. It was an invitation that should have been a slam dunk for someone else. But in this old kid’s alternate universe, this simple text set my hair on fire because it was invite for dinner — in the city. Uh oh.

Excuses racing through my brain, my fingers hesitated over the letters that would spell out my regrets. Considering my options, including perhaps an unforeseen natural disaster, the full force of guilt was also upon me. This sweet lady who had often driven many miles just to visit me deserved better than a dumb excuse and any excuse would be just a smoke screen for the real problem. I was a chickenshit. Just the thought of traveling solo to the Big Apple invoked a world of panic in me and that was the unvarnished, embarrassing truth.

So, there I sat, minutes ticking away, staring at the computer. Houston, we have a problem.

I never lived or worked in the city. Any exploration of Manhattan was as the sidekick of friends or husband, not in driver’s seat. (competitive races with taxi drivers were not my wheelhouse). My only lone trip on the commuter train was as a much younger version of myself and the last (and second time) time I took the bus was with my husband the year before he died. Yet, I live in a commuter town, well serviced by public transit and here I was having apoplexy about using it.

I pondered my options. I could decline this loving woman’s plan for what sounded like a nice night with her and her savvy, accomplished ‘gal pals’. Or, I could say ‘yes’; then dial-a-friend. I knew my neighbor buddy was also solo travel-shy but hey, two crazy chicks were always better than one. Problem solved.

That’s how I ended up in New York City last night, enjoying a delicious, entertaining and inspiring night with savvy new friends I never would have otherwise met. Neither I nor my sweet travel pal were abducted. We didn’t get lost in the bus terminal maze or suffer anything but bouts of insane laughter. The night was more than a success; it might have been a much needed facepalm. Though it would have been exceedingly easy to decline the dinner invite, it wouldn’t have been right – on many levels. The time had come to finally make the leap to ‘yes’.

Finding yourself suddenly alone is not for sissies. When your better half dies as unexpectedly as a tsumani, the adjustment to that empty space can be critically traumatic. But the fact remains that, like it or not, you are now solo. You have no choice but to reconfigure your GPS. Choices you never thought you’d need to make now sit on your plate and its up to you to choose the best entrée. If the menu is overwhelming, just pick an appetizer for now — and take baby bites.

Last year, I got the unexpected gift of a trip review in California which I almost declined. The first trip without my guy would have been reason enough to bow out but, knowing it was work-related, forced me to pull the trigger on a 10-tour that netted great experiences — and a pretty cool article, if I do say so myself. When I came home from that trip, I vowed that if another opportunity came my way, I’d grab the brass ring.

When I think of the hard stuff I’ve already overcome in life, it often surprises me that things like travel scare me so much. I took my kidds through a few solo-mommying years, creatively budgeting to keep us in the black and food on the table. I stubbornly bucked the assumption that without a college education, you couldn’t ‘become’. I became. Most of all, I was a tireless warrior for my husband, unafraid of white coat hierarchy or institutions. When I had questions or issues that concerned his well being, I was not averse to being a royal pain until we received answers. So, why the heck do I shake in my flip flops at the thought of finding my way to the city when I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone so often that I could have changed zip codes?

They claim that saying yes to new experiences becomes more important as we age. When lives become routine, we become stagnant and that’s hardly a good look for your brain. When we stick to only the familiar, our brains put up roadblocks to new synapses and connections with other neurons. Translation? Only when we break up the norm, close our eyes and jump feet first into new, even challenging situations can we force our noggins to think and act in different ways. And that’s a good thing at any age.

It’s been said that when you stop learning, you start to die a little each day. Cancer never stopped my husband from enthusiastically learning or saying ‘yes’ to new things. That curiousity might have even had something to do with his lack of fear of dying. I didn’t share his level of bravery. Yet, I don’t want a giant list of regrets to wade through one day as I sit in a rocking chair either. Though my minor fears of heights and closed spaces might preclude hang gliding or zip-lining, grabbing my fill of Broadway, and exploring more long-overdue sights are definitely on my list.

I will never say ‘yes’ to everything, though I can certainly try to do and be more. I realized, in a lightbulb moment this morning, that one of the many reasons I’ve been so reticent to open the door to the ‘new’ is knowing what I have to leave behind. My husband can’t walk through that door with me. To make fresh experiences and memories is to say a conscious goodbye to the man who will be my pastk however permanently he’s a fixture in my heart. There’s a certain courage needed to accept, without guilt, a new life ahead. But don’t get too excited. While thinking out of my hamster box is definitely on the agenda, I don’t plan on buying an all-season solo pass on the transit system just yet. I do hope, however, to say ‘yes’ first — and figure out the details later. A new cuisine? Copy that. A different genre of book or movie? I’ll give it a shot. And that Broadway show I’ve been jonesing to see? Book it. As a matter of fact, a pal and I are making of

But don’t get too excited. While thinking out of my hamster box is definitely on the agenda, I don’t plan on buying an all-season solo pass on the transit system just yet. I do hope, however, to say ‘yes’ first — and figure out the details later. A new cuisine? Copy that. A different genre of book or movie? I’ll give it a shot. And that Broadway show I’ve been jonesing to see? Book it. As a matter of fact, a pal and I are making of day of it in August.

We live every day with some kind of fear, some trepidation of the unknown, unfamiliar. We ache with ‘what might have been’ and never will again. But the more we adhere to the script of fear, the more we will never know what might be – for us alone. No, I can’t wriggle my nose and have my husband by my side, anymore than I can suddenly be fearless. But, I can raise my hand with ‘yes’ to travel, food, and experiences that might expand, soothe and enrich me. Like the words in the Serenity Prayer, I’ll take a helping of courage to ‘change the things I can’ but considering I’ve already traveled through the scariest darkness life can throw at you, public transport should be a piece of cake.

Stay tuned. Order some dessert. Revised woman in progress.

 

 

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