Sometimes my life is quiet, and sometimes I encounter half the people I know all in one day and I feel suddenly visible. I like that feeling of being seen, acknowledged, dare I say…liked? But there is another feeling hiding behind that satisfaction – the resignation that the quietness will return eventually. There will follow days, maybe even weeks, without one phone call or text message. I have to learn to enjoy these moments of connectedness without letting the absence of them get me down.
Today I ran into three different acquaintances on my way to work. Three people in about 30 minutes. One saw me from his car as I walked to the bus stop (and messaged me later to say hi), another coworker missed the bus he usually takes and ended up sitting next to me. And then yet another person tapped my shoulder in greeting as I bought my morning coffee.
In these moments when I am suddenly in the presence of others, my first impulse is to do everything in my power to put them at ease. My social anxiety clamps down for a moment, and I have to remind myself to relax – just chat to pass the time, silly, you’re not responsible for taking care of everyone! You can be grouchy and a little taciturn or surprised and inarticulate and the person isn’t going to hate you for the rest of life because of it. Right? At least I hope so.
So when my coworker sat down on the bus next to me, we talked about our Thanksgiving holiday and movies we’d seen recently. As the bus neared our destination, I got quiet as a heated discussion flared up within my own brain. You see, I had planned to get off the bus one stop earlier to go to a cafe to get my coffee this morning instead of making a pot at the office. A little treat for myself after the brisk walk to the bus stop. But I didn’t *need* to get off early, it was just a frivolous little plan I’d made. And here was my coworker in the aisle seat – if I got off the bus at the cafe then he’d have to stand up to let me out, and I’d have to cut short our small talk. It would be easier just to go with the flow, get off at my regular stop. No one would be the wiser (well, save for me) and he wouldn’t be inconvenienced. But no, I’d planned to get my coffee – why shouldn’t I go through with it? Would it really be so awful to have a slightly different plan?
It must seem like such a small thing to worry about. And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t some existential crisis – I’m fairly certain my friendly coworker had no inkling of this little debate I was having with myself. But it’s an old old pattern of mine, to do what’s easiest, imposing on no one, always silently re-arranging my life to accommodate others (often completely unbeknownst to them). At least I am mindful enough to catch myself now, before I do it.
I’m happy to say I got off the bus and got a superior cup of coffee. A year ago, I don’t think I would have done the same.