I stood in a park on a fall day, leaves a kaleidoscope of colors around me. I held a bouquet of burgundy flowers in front of my simple black dress, a gold ribbon wrapped around my waist. In front of me two of my dearest friends sniffled, trying to hold back a river of emotion, clutching the tissues they’d secretly wrapped around the stems of the flowers they also held. A third dear friend with hair the color of flame wore a white dress and said “I do” to a man who had won her heart.
Afterwards there was music and dancing, the forest floor a stage, the sky a ceiling. We ate cookies instead of cake—chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal and toffee. I snapped a picture of the bride with her head thrown back, laughing as the groom twirled her around during their first dance. It’s the closest I’ve come to witnessing a fairy tale.
Those moments don’t come often in life, the ones full of holy magic and wild wonder, the sort that make you want to ease time down to a trickle and let it run over your hands, your heart slowly, slowly. As I breathed in the scent of campfires and sugar my mind drifted back to another moment, years ago, that felt entirely different.
It happened during a year when I’d gotten on a plane twenty times, when peanuts and pretzels in little packages felt like a solid meal. It came during a season where I cried in hotel bathrooms and stared at the ceiling at midnight. It snuck up on me when, if I wasn’t traveling, I spent most of my time looking into a computer screen. The world felt flat and pixelated, the desire to prove myself in some mysterious way a constant drumbeat in my weary bones.
One day I went to coffee with the bride—although it would be years before she took on that role. Months had somehow slipped by without a meaningful conversation between us. I’d been distracted and exhausted, distant and a bit depressed. She sat across from me and pulled a letter from her purse. It said many kind and beautiful things. But they all came down to this: She loved me and she missed me.
I felt like the Apostle Paul with the scales falling off my eyes. I could suddenly see what all my hustling had done to the people closest to me. Later in the car on the drive home I told myself things had to change.
I’d like to say the alterations were easy. But I was hooked on approval like an addict in a dark alley, every round of applause or “like” on social media another hit. I felt the withdrawals of saying “no” to good opportunities, of choosing to be present in my everyday life where I was quite ordinary rather than on a stage where no one could see my flaws. I worried that I wasn’t keeping up or that I was letting everyone down.
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