*I wrote this Monday night, as I waited to fly out – I’m a little late posting it*
I am having a glass of wine, killing time at the airport. I pulled out my iPad and was perusing the library of books in my Kindle app and opened a book of Emerson’s most famous essays, including Self-reliance. I plunged back into Self-reliance, which felt sort of like catching up with an old friend I hadn’t chatted with in years. At the bar, there were a few different types of folks, which is one of the things I love the most about international airports – they are like microcosms of the world. At any moment, you can run into someone from just about any walk of life on the planet. But before I get into my observations at the bar, let me tell you about the Uber driver who took me to the airport.
Her name was Prudence and she was from Cameroon. She was a petite Black woman in her mid-twenties.
“Jessica?” she said as she rolled down the window.
“That’s me,” I said.
She smiled big and said, “Okay, let’s get you home.” She got out of her car and insisted on helping me with my over-sized suitcase (which, btw, was 45 pounds – an extra 5 pounds that cost me $30 each way during this trip – be wary of the nickel and diming of Spirit Airlines, or any so-called budget airline). I made some small talk, asking where she was from, how long she had been driving for Uber. She was from Cameroon and came to the States 8 years ago. She had two children, a 12-year-old and a 6 month old. She told me she was in school and I asked her what she was studying. “Nursing,” she said.
“What type?” I asked.
“I’m in an LPN program,” she replied. “It’s hard,” she said. “Raising children, working a full-time job, driving for Uber, trying to make ends meet, and now, starting school. This last year was very difficult.” I smiled and said, “I can imagine. You’re already my hero.”
She beamed and then went on to tell me that she had just won back custody of her baby. After she moved to the U.S., she brought her older daughter over and got married a few years later. She was living and working in Chicago at the time, navigating a new country, a new culture, a new language, on her own. That… that is boss. So anyways, her husband ended up, as she explained, “messing around with other girls, you know,” so she divorced him shortly after she got pregnant with her youngest child. Her then ex-husband and his new wife fought for custody of her baby after it was born, claiming she was an unfit mother because she was working multiple jobs to make ends meet. She immediately lost the baby and had to pay over $500 each month in child support, all the while, determined to win custody back. And she did.
I was struck by her tenacity, her courage. She’d had a rough year, but she overcame it and was now working on getting an education so she could make a better life for herself and her children. I told her about one of my clients, a single mother who immigrated from Africa and had started out as an orderly in a hospital. She got into a program and earned her CNA, then her associates in nursing, followed by her bachelor’s, master’s, and I had the privilege of helping her finish her research for her doctorate of nursing. Prudence smiled and exclaimed loudly, “Yes! Yes! That’s what I want to do! Anything is possible when you believe in yourself!”
“It is,” I agreed. “So keep doing your thing. The universe respects people with tenacity and grit. You’re one of them.”
When we got to the airport, I tipped her and gave her a hug. I walked away thinking about how much that type of thing absolutely fulfills me. That’s what I live for – opportunities to encourage others (especially women). And that was a big part of what keeps me going when I feel discouraged- I want to be an example. It’s not an ego thing, but I want to show other people (especially women) that they can be strong, relentless, beautiful, and fearless – all at once. There have been many times over the last year, especially, when I decided travel full time, by myself, in an RV, when I was downright scared. I was scared. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But I always knew, I always knew that I had everything I needed to make it through any situation. Whatever I needed was already there. Sometimes that means coming up with creative solutions, sometimes that means opening myself up to the help that the universe sends to me, but it’s always there. And I want other people (especially women) to see that. If Jess can do it, I can do it. I know that’s a fundamental purpose for this life of mine. I have moments of anxiety, stress, feelings discouragement and beat-down. Sometimes, I give myself a few minutes to cry out whatever is burdening me, but always… always, I dust myself off and keep going. Even when I was younger and far less strong and confident, there was something in me that was always able to power through the tough times. I want everyone to see that in themselves, to feel that confidence. To know that vulnerability is a strength. To understand how powerful it is to own who you are, with all your flaws and past fuck-ups. To experience the beauty of living a life for yourself – not as an act of selfishness, but one of self-respect.
That brings me back to some powerful words from Self-reliance. If you haven’t read Ralph Waldo Emerson, I urge you to do so. If you only read one work by him, let it be Self-reliance. Even if you only read one paragraph a day (it’s dense), peck away at it slowly. Here’s the ClifsNotes version – stop worrying so much about what other people are doing or thinking about what you’re doing. Stop looking for others for your own answers. Start looking within. Live your life in a way that fulfills you. Make decisions based on what is right for you in any given moment, and don’t sweat it if a decision you made yesterday isn’t quite gelling with you today. Think for yourself. Respect yourself. Accept the invitation the universe gave you to this journey of life – appreciate it, love it, sanctify it. Sanctify your life. And understand that the peace you seek doesn’t lie in anyone’s approval of yourself… but your own.
I remember reading Self-reliance 15 years ago and being forever changed by it. And every time I’ve read it since, I’ve been changed more. There are new messages hiding in it. I felt so passionately about this essay that I taught it to my high school freshman when I was an English teacher (even though I wasn’t even exposed to until my senior year of college). These are words to live by, freeing words. This is how life is to be lived – independently but kindly. When you follow the reverberations of your own heart, march to your own drum, do your best to live honestly, generously, and kindly, you fall into the flow of life. It’s not always perfect, but there is always something to be learned, to be gained.
My life is unconventional, like me. I have to remind myself of that when I find myself trying to crawl into a box that I was never meant to fit into. Maybe that includes a conventional conceptualization of love and relationships.
So anyways, I thought about this as I was sitting at the bar, thinking back on the past week. When I first got to the airport, I found myself slipping into a spiral of overthinking, of feeling a little lonely, of wondering if I would always feel this way. Then I snapped out of it and started people watching, instead. The interactions, the behaviors, facial expressions. The way some people would greet one another, embrace…the way others seemed so cold toward one another, so closed off. The way everyone seems to be trying so hard to be approved of, to fit in, to feel loved. At their core, I think most people are scared. I don’t ever want fear to rule my life. It has stopped me a lot when it comes to writing. I need to get over that.
So anyways, I’m flying back to Florida, where my RV and dog are, and I’ll soon decide where I’m going next. I believe I’ll check out Austin for a while and then meander back toward the west coast.
I’d like to catch up with my friends in Florida before I head back out… it will be a while before I’m back.