Twenty or so years ago. My friend C and I are on a Metro train headed north to New Haven to hear some live music or to go dancing, or both. To be seen, to see.
All at once, a feeling of unease twists through me like a corkscrew, an overwhelming instinct that we shouldn’t continue.
As well as I can, I tell C what I’m feeling, and if she thinks I’m crazy she doesn’t tell me so. Whatever brought on this reaction, it plants itself deep inside my gut and doesn’t let up.
The two of us start to study everyone on the train car with us. Did anyone look dangerous? Were we missing something obvious? Could we find malevolence on any face in that crowd? We discover nothing.
But still, that feeling.
We decide to turn back. When we can, we switch trains and go home.
I don’t know what peril – maybe none at all – we avoided that night. It could have been that some memory was triggered – a voice I heard, a smell – that set off that kind of reaction in me. I don’t have panic attacks, so I don’t think it was that.
But now, all these years later, I think of that night with a certain measure of awe. I had listened to my instinct and acted in concert with it.
It would not always go that way.
Maybe it’s a product of how I grew up, but confidence or self-assuredness has never been my default setting. I grew up learning how to get by and get along, how to please. The ability see a path and to take it, without rationalization, feels like foreign land to me. I can imagine a dozen different results to a decision and imagine that somehow any one of them could work out well enough. Adaptable, that’s me.
To a fault.
So now, when I’m called upon as a parent to make The Right Decisions, it’s a part of me that I spend a good deal of effort trying to tame.
Because while adaptable might be a good survival instinct, it’s not good enough. It’s reactive, not proactive. It’s taking what you have to take so that you can keep things on an even keel. It’s rolling with it. It’s the boat adrift, not the tidal pull.
It takes all I have sometimes, but I’m really trying to listen for what my instincts tell me, even when I feel like an Etch a Sketch that someone picked up and shook, right after I finished drawing a map for myself.
I’ve had to learn (am still learning) that it serves no one if I accept less than a fair measure. I don’t expect life to be spectacular – I believe that happiness comes to us in moments or even whole days, maybe longer at times, but it’s not an enduring condition – but life can be pretty good. Life can feel settled. I see it in the lives of friends, a level of stability and certainty that has felt out of my reach for so long.
I want that. In my soul, in my head, in my gut. And if instinct can tell me what to avoid, can’t it also tell me what to seek? I’m willing to believe it’s possible.
So I’m switching trains.
I’m not the only one making a switch: If you haven’t heard, Emily Rosenbaum has moved her blog, Wheels on the Bus, to her very own domain. She was kind enough to let me design her new site (she knew I needed some fun in my life). And, hey, she’s already posted new content there (because she’s talented and lovely and awesome in all sorts of ways).