When I Want Nothing More Than To Be Alone and Then A Stranger Talks To Me

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I’m never one to “celebrate” on New Year’s Eve. You won’t find me at a party drinking champagne and making a lot of noise. I tend to retreat inward and enjoy the ringing in of a new year with some quiet reflection and time alone – emphasis on the “quiet” and “alone.”

This year, having had to work on New Year’s Eve, I decided to wake up bright and early on New Year’s Day, drive out to the ocean, and spend some time alone, thinking about what I want this year to hold for me. 2013 was (to be honest) a pretty miserable year, and I mean that in a loving, “you really helped me to grow,” kind of way – but I am truly happy to see it go.

The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful – the sky was stark blue, the air was perfect in that not-too-warm-but-not-too-cold way only southern California is capable of – and as I soaked in the sunshine on the drive out to my favorite spot in Santa Monica, I started thinking about things I want for this year:

I want to write more.

I want to meet more people.

I want to help more people.

I want to find a way to combine all of these things into a job.

But what I want most is to feel inspired. To feel that yearning and need to conquer the world; to look at every day, normal things and see the miracles they hold. To feel that spark. But, where to look? Where do I begin? All of these things plagued my mind.

I parked my car, fed my parking meter, and threw on my best “don’t talk to me” look (ladies, I know you’re all familiar with this). I was over-tired and crabby. I wanted to be completely alone. I was dead-set on doing some deep thinking and asking God for direction.

As I sat myself on the railing overlooking the brilliant coastline, the breeze gently blew my hair, the sun warmed my skin. I closed my eyes and turned my face toward the sky……
….and I heard a male voice to my right say, “Hello!”

“You have to be kidding me,” I thought. I had been sitting a total of ONE minute at this point, and couldn’t believe my solitude was being disrupted so quickly. I’m used to people talking to me…it happens frequently and usually I’m all ears – but just this once, I wanted peace. I begrudgingly looked over, and indeed, the voice was directed at me – the source was an older man of about 65-70. He had a kind smile, and was all alone, and even though I was being crabby, I allowed the corners of my mouth to curl up ever so slightly and say a soft “hello” in return.

This was the end of my solitude. The man walked over to me, extended his hand, and introduced himself as “Shawn.” What followed was nothing short of beautiful.

Life has a way of bringing us exactly what we need if we open ourselves up to it.

Shawn came here to the United States from Iran. In his thickly accented English, he told me he’d come here to be free. He’d come here to escape the things that made him feel like a prisoner in his own country.

In the next hour and a half, he told me so many stories – stories that made me feel such a deep sense of appreciation and adoration for our country. Stories of how limited freedom was in his country. I asked him what bothered him the most about where he came from and the first thing he said was about women: He didn’t like how women were treated and it hurt his heart that they were forced to cover their bodies and faces, hiding thier feminity from the world; remaining unheard and disrespected.

How intensely grateful and acutely aware I suddenly was that I was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt – that I was free to feel the sun on my arms and face. How amazingly beautiful. I thanked him for reminding me of this.

He told me of a time when he applied for a job with the U.S. government to serve as a translator. In his letter to the government, he wrote of why he wanted the job and how much he appreciated this country. He then wrote about a president that he disagreed with – a president that he felt had contributed to more unrest in Iran. He didn’t get the job. The government didn’t like what he had to say about the particular president he referred to. BUT, he reminded me, he was FREE to voice that opinion. Again, what an amazingly beautiful thing. To be able to voice your opinion and not be punished for it.

He told me about a time he had been drinking with his friends in Iran, and how this was not allowed. He and his friends were stopped in the street by police and questioned for hours and hours and hours, because it was breaking the law to be consuming alcohol. How grateful I suddenly felt that I’d been able to have a glass of wine in a restaurant earlier in the week.
He spoke about his travels throughout the world and how Brazil is the most beautiful place he’s ever seen in his entire life, and Greece is the closest he imagines to paradise. Yet, he chose to live here, in our beautifully flawed United States. To call this country “home.”

Shawn now runs two small businesses in Los Angeles…because he can. The joy radiating from his eyes and his face for the life he’s free to live was alive in the air around him. This man is HAPPY.

We talked until I had to return to my car because my meter had expired. I realized that I had gotten exactly what I’d come to the ocean to get: Inspiration.

Before we left, I asked Shawn if I could take his photo and write about the things he’d told me. He proudly stood for the photo and was overjoyed at the thought of me writing about him. Thank you, Shawn, for making my day so wonderful.
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I wanted to share this experience with anyone willing to take the time to read this.

As I step foot into this new year, I want to remind myself every single day to be full of gratitude and appreciation for the life that I have. To remind myself that there is inspiration EVERYWHERE; the difference between seeing it and not seeing it lies within my own mind. What a beautiful gift I’d been given on the very first day of this new year.

Happy New Year to all of you.

Here’s to a year full of inspiration…

– A

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The Post in Which I Argue With a Brilliant Dead Man: The View Looking Back

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Henry David Thoreau once said:

“NEVER LOOK BACK UNLESS YOU ARE PLANNING TO GO THAT WAY.”

I’ve seen this quote in countless places: classrooms, journals, Facebook posts, Instagram, Pinterest, articles and inspirations…you name it, I’ve seen it there. Google Image it…you’ll understand what I mean. If you haven’t seen this quote before, I’m not judging you, I’m just gently telling you to climb out of the cave you’ve been living in.

I completely understand the message old Mr. Thoreau was trying to convey: The more we focus on what’s behind us, the higher the possibility of regressing.

But, you see, while I understand the message……..I’m also calling “bullshit.”

I see things a bit differently. (I should note that as I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “Am I really about to argue with the writer of Walden right now? In a public forum?” Please blame my boldness on the glass (es) of wine I’ve had. But, alas, I wanted to write honestly about what led me to these thoughts and this was it.)

Before you judge me, let me share with you what led to this epiphany. Ironically, I’m even going to bring nature into it and how it brought me to this realization:

I seek the woods.

I am at peace when I am alone in nature.

I yearn for the outdoors. I can see the trees around me, and sense the open space, and feel the air, and taste the earth, and smell the dirt. After growing up with miles of woods surrounding me, it’s ingrained in my soul to seek nature…

It’s where I find my center.

It’s where I do my best thinking.

It’s where thoughts and inspirations, quite literally, flood my brain; so much so that I’ve actually had to start recording myself on my phone when new thoughts hit me so I don’t lose them.

Living in LA, there’s not a whole lot of places you can go to immerse yourself in nature and this has led me to become an even more avid hiker. While LA lacks in the nature department compared to New England (let’s be honest: everywhere lacks in that department compared to New England, and this is something Thoreau would agree with, no doubt), it has no shortage of amazing hikes. The trails are winding and dusty and filled with luxurious and coveted quiet spots among the City of Angels.

Today, I went hiking in Malibu. I’ve done this particular hike about 20 times. It’s incredibly challenging and when it’s hot enough out, there are actually points where I think to myself: “I’m absolutely going to pass out on the trail and someone is going trip over my lifeless and dehydrated body.” But I ALWAYS make it. And I always take the hard way up. And I always pound through as fast as I can without letting my eyes leave the next peak.

Yet, today was different.

I did something I’ve never done.

I looked back.

I turned my body around on the trail and I looked behind me and lost my breath as I realized I’d been missing half of the view.

Because, man, that view…It was breathtaking.

That view made me realize how amazing my body is; how perfectly and powerfully it functions and how strong I am. It made me realize what I’d conquered.

When we’re in the midst of a climb, it’s easy to forget to stop and take in the progress we’ve made. It’s hard to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Damn, you’re gettin’ through it, kid” when we never look back at where we’ve been.

It’s easy to forget that we’re in the midst of conquering a mountain.

So, as I climbed and my body hurt and screamed for me to stop, I looked back, and it encouranged me to push forward, because I couldn’t believe what I’d already done. I couldn’t believe I’d started out at the very bottom and now had a breathtaking 360 degree view of the ocean and mountains because I was so high up.

In my waking life, I’m still climbing that mountain. I’m still conquering the hills that make my soul hurt and scream out for me to stop. I still ache with uncertainty and missteps and lack of direction.

But….I’m looking back.

I’m looking back and I’m seeing that I like the view of what’s behind me.

It’s breathtaking.

I’m seeing that I’ve come so far. I’m seeing that even though at times, I get lost in the climb and focus soley on putting one foot in front of the other, I’m still climbing. I’m still getting to a higher place and gaining view of an incredible perspective. And at NO POINT, am I worried that I’m going back there…to what’s behind me.

….And that, put as simply as possible, is why I don’t agree with one of the writers I’ve admired since I was in the 7th grade.

Every good thing is a good thing because we have something less than good to compare it to.

I’m afraid that if we ignore what’s behind us for fear of going back, we’ll never realize how far we’ve come. We’ll keep finding ourselves exerting so much effort and not really taking the time to give ourselves credit for what we’ve already accomlished. Let what is behind you serve as motivation to continue climbing. And if you’re at the bottom…well, darling, there’s no where to go but up.

Create your view from the top…then look back at all the things behind you – not with the intention of returning to them, but with admiration for the perspective that you’ve gained.

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Love,

– A