To the sweet stranger I see at Dunkin Donuts every morning –
You probably have no idea who I am, and why should you? You and I are nothing more to each other than strangers passing by on our morning journey towards being appropriately caffeinated. The truth is, I find myself thinking about you — probably more often than I should. I think about the way you come staggering in not far behind me, around 7:25 every morning. I think about the way the employees greet you with a, “good morning, Sir! The usual?” and have a large coffee with milk and two sugars, a glazed donut, and the paper ready before you get to the front of the line.
Beyond the morning routine, I wonder about you. I’ll be frank; I wonder if you’re happy. You carry your head like you’ve been sucker punched by life, but the soft creases around your eyes and mouth make me believe that despite the losses, your life was filled with joy. And even though you are merely just a stranger, I really hope that’s true. I really hope you lived a life that you are proud of and that you are able to look back and say you did all you could. I hope you never missed the point.
It’s become second nature for me to see people passing by and feel this tremendous need to know them.
Sometimes, I see older couples walking arm in arm, and I draw up a picture of how sweet their love must be. I map out a story about high school sweethearts who built a life together, and weathered their way through the storm of growing older, and still somehow found home in each other’s eyes. I see people eating alone at a diner and a sinking feeling crushes me to my core. I go over all the potential ways their story led them to sitting alone in the corner of that diner. I think about the spouse that died, leaving them with nothing but memories and a seat in their favorite breakfast spot. I see young people walking through the park with their infant baby and I wonder if they realize how very lucky they are to be filled with so much love in their lives. I see teenagers at the mall, surrounded by a sea full of their friends, and I wonder who they are beyond the poorly done makeup, latest trend of clothes, and hair styles that will go out as quickly as they slid in.
The truth is, I spend a lot of time fearing the concept of time, and desperately trying to look towards strangers in the hopes that their eyes will lock with mine and I will feel some sort of comfort in knowing that I am not alone.
These days, the fear of time seems to be the uninvited house guest that’s crept her way into my life and set up camp inside my heart.
I sometimes miss the naivety that came with childhood and the bubble of invincibility that we lived in. We saw the future as this elusive fairy tale, and when we made plans for who we wanted to become, we saw no path but a straight one leading us right there. All we saw was an infinite number of possibilities — an infinite number of chances to get it right — an infinite amount of time.
It wasn’t until things happened to us — when life happened, when tragedy struck, did we realize how fragile our time here was. And after facing heart break, or death of family members, or fatal car accidents involving peers we just saw in class the day before, we put our fists in the air and promised to live each day like it’s our last. We proclaimed the cliche and thought we really meant it, and we did, until we found ourselves right back where we were: going through the daily motions, but never really sinking our teeth into making our stay here matter.
The problem is we always think we’re going to have more time. We rationalize putting things off because we are busy — because we’ll have another chance. We think we’ll have another opportunity to go after what we wanted for ourselves ten years ago. We think we are given an infinite number of chances to fall off our bikes and get right back up to start over again. We push off doing what we want to do because there will be more time to chase what makes our hearts full. We think we’ll have more time to catch up with family and friends that we haven’t seen. We think we’ll have more time to tell that boy how we really feel. And even though we know that time is never a guarantee, we somehow are so convinced that we are the exception to this.
Let me tell you a thing or two about time. Time wasn’t on my friend Pat’s side when he was walking on that dark road that February night in 2009 and his life was cut short at only 21 years old. Time was not on my neighbor’s side, the healthiest man I knew, who fought his way down to his very last breath after a cancer diagnosis and a stroke that took everything from him. Time wasn’t on my side when I put off watching the movie Groundhog’s Day with him because he told me for years the movie reminded him of the time he drove me around getting my working papers signed when I was 15 and applying for my first job. Time wasn’t on my aunt’s side when she was diagnosed with cancer and suffered tremendously right down to her last day. Time wasn’t on my cousin’s sides, when all the adults in their lives scrambled to find them a stable home after my aunt died, only to leave them broken and drowning in a custody battle when they were in their early teens. Time was not on my side when I thought that green eyed boy would still be around when I was ready to let my guard down. The point is that time is not our friend. She won’t always be on our side.
Time is a constant reminder that our stay here is finite. That this space we occupy is never for keeps, but only for rent, and we never know when our lease is going to be up.
And I guess that’s the fear, really. I fear that if I blink, I’ll miss something. I think that’s why I cling so fiercely onto strangers that I pass by. I wonder if they’ve ever felt the same way.
I don’t want to miss the point in all of this. I don’t want to sit around, stewing in the fear that I will never hit that bar that I set for myself. I want to run towards it. I want to hit that bar. But I find that I’m stuck sometimes — paralyzed, even.
– – –
I’m realizing that all we really are are just bits and pieces of matter.
We are grains of sand; we are tiny specks on a screen shot of the planet. We are so, so small in comparison to how vast the universe really is. We are inconsequential fragments occupying this space. But small or not, we are here. And it is our duty, our job, to make something out of the time we have. What we do with our time matters. What we do with our lives matter.
The older I get, the more that I’m finding that if you don’t pay close attention, if you even, for one second blink, you’ll miss out on some chances.
I hope you never keep your eyes closed long enough to ever miss the point. I hope you don’t wish time away. I hope you don’t miss the important moments and the not so important ones and realize that they count too. I hope that even when you are so caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day life, that you slow down. I hope you wake up early enough one summer morning and really soak in a sunrise. I hope you watch a snowflake land on your palm and revel in the beauty of what it means to be unique — that just like snowflakes, we are all uniquely made. Similar to others, but not quite the same. I hope you find the kind of love that makes your heart swell ten times its size and I hope you take the time to really be in love. I hope that when you’re sitting with an old friend, ranting and raving about life, that you’re really listening. I hope you hear through her whining that she really needs you. That she’s struggling, but that she doesn’t want to admit it. I hope you are able to put down the phone and see life through your own pair of eyes, and not through the scope of a four inch screen.
I hope you make the decision to go after the dreams that keep you up at night. I hope you chase the things that make your heart full. I hope you do something that you feel matters. I hope you find the courage to walk away from people who no longer serve you. I hope you find the strength to leave a dead end relationship. I hope you find the bravery to be okay with being alone, because that is better than being lonely lying in bed next to someone.
I hope you always feel seen. And I hope that you see others, too. I hope that you stay present. I hope you never miss out on the opportunity to speak openly about how you feel. I hope you never take for granted the love you have in your life or the people who never leave your side, no matter how oblivious you are to their feelings. I hope you stop pushing off what you want to do and just dive head first into doing it.
Our time here is limited. Please, please, just don’t miss the point.