“Maybe I should pour something for you that is a little more calming,” the sleepy-eyed, Seattle coffee shop barista remarked. Agitated with his slow service, I responded by rolling my eyes and loudly drumming my fingers on the counter.
The third day into a rainy road trip had taken my last ounce of patience.
It was early March, and my son had insisted that we—he, my husband and I—should all drive to Canada from San Diego, California in the new used car we bought when our 1997 Nissan truck with 300,000 miles succumbed to old age. He thought the trip might be good for me; cure my recent crabby attitude and all that.
His persistence stemmed from a concern over my wallowing in a deep, dark funk for several months. Concern over my father’s health, a surge of unexpected bills and harassment from new landlords, which resulted in an expensive move, had all but destroyed my optimism and resources.
At first I did not want to go but, eventually I relented, and the three of us piled into the new used car to go find Canada.
The first day of the trip was fine. The second day we crossed the border into Oregon and sheets of rain came down like a curtain, casting a morbid spell where I sat in the back seat of the car feeling sorry for myself. I just wanted to go home.
The Oregonians annoyed me with their obliviousness to the rain. They blithely walked through it without the need to do anything to avoid getting soaked. I however, was an obvious tourist sheltering myself with a huge umbrella and wearing two winter coats, a hat and heavy gloves.
As if the rain and cramped quarters were not enough, somewhere between Eugene and Portland, my stomach rebelled. I was miserable. When the guys decided to stop and get something to eat at the food carts that are popular in the area, I protested, but got out of the car anyway.
Sloshing around the lot where the carts were, I spotted one where the vendor was pushing all sorts of stuff through a machine that poured juice out one end while it vomited pulp out the other. I liked his approachable and easy-going attitude, so I did what I always do when I like someone—I told him my life’s story. He suggested I try one of his drinks, which I bought. Whatever was in the drink stopped my stomach problems and lifted my spirits. I even stopped complaining—until Seattle.
Seattle had the most splendid public library and some of the friendliest folks I have ever met. Nothing seemed to bother them—not the rain, long lines or a barista who called each one “Dude.”
That night we stayed in a place where everyone shared the bathrooms and showers. My irritation was palpable. At this point in my life, having a personal toilet in a strange place did not seem like too much to ask.
The next morning, I set out looking for my daily fix of coffee. I traipsed three or four blocks through more rain from the room with no toilet to the only Starbucks that opened at 6 a.m. Blasting through the doors, I stood for what seemed like an eternity as the overly mellow barista ignored my shuffling and finger tapping at the coffee bar before suggesting he pour me a more calming drink.
“No,” I snapped. “I don’t need to calm down. Just give me a cup of the house coffee.”
That afternoon saw the last leg of the trip. Canada seemed like some Land of Oz now and I just wanted to get there so I could turn around and leave.
At the Canadian border, the sun finally broke through the clouds. It blinded me for a second so that I did not notice the lush green countryside or the crystal blue water that surrounded Vancouver.The politeness of the people caught me off-guard as well. Everyone smiled. I wondered if the cart vender from Oregon who had settled my stomach and nerves shipped his drinks up there.
We checked into a motel painted hot pink and apple green on the outside and various other colors on the inside. A small, disorganized manager with a thick Indian accent gave us a tour of the place as if it were the Taj Mahal. His arms moved in grand sweeping gestures as he smiled and pointed out things like the heater and dilapidated lamps.
At that moment, I understood the true meaning of the quote, “Perception is Reality.” I realized it is not so much what life throws at us, but how we choose to catch it; and that a hot pink and apple green, falling-down dump can look just like a castle if we squint our inner eye a certain way.
My self-absorbed problems and emotions had held me back from actually seeing and simply enjoying each moment that I was fortunate enough to live. When I opened myself to that gratitude, I understood that it is okay to eat ice cream no matter how cold or rainy the weather is, enjoy someone singing a Louisiana blues song in a Vancouver farmer’s market and accept the fact that even though you do not have your own toilet, life will go on.
The sun shone the entire way back—even in Washington and Oregon. But, by then, I would not have minded if it rained.