I’m sitting on a plane to Warsaw, then Istanbul, and I’m crying. I’m crying over a book written by a journalist I’ve never heard of about a war that happened decades before I was born. But really I’m crying about fear and indecision and the feeling of being trapped.
How can I feel trapped, sitting in a giant metal bird, flying over a huge blue ocean, the modern symbol of freedom itself? Maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m crying for the people around me who do feel trapped. Trapped by their past, their responsibilities, their anger and self-judgment. Maybe I felt trapped by those things for so long, and now that I’ve started down the road toward freedom, it hurts me that I can’t bring all my loved ones along.
I feel guilty that being free is easier for me, because I have money, and supportive parents, and friends who love me unconditionally. This story I’m reading and crying over is also about guilt. The guilt of taking the easy way out. Of not knowing what to do. There are things I don’t know either. One thing I don’t know is if what I’m doing is the easy way out or the only thing worth working really really hard at.
One whole chapter in this book is dedicated to an episode in the author’s life he is truly embarrassed by. It is told in such a beautiful, honest way that it makes me want to share a story about being embarrassed. A story that lays me bare, like a young Indian brave opening the chest of his first deer. I’m not sure why, but I think being able to admit embarrassment is one of the steps towards freedom. Crying on a plane to Warsaw is kind of embarrassing. It reminds me of another embarrassing moment, crying in a taxi in San Francisco. It’s not a huge embarrassment, but I have to start somewhere.
I came out from my yoga class (a treat to myself after having my heart broken over IM that morning) and my bike looked all wrong. I knew it was a bad place to leave it, but the seat and wheels were locked on. What could they take? Well, the handlebars, apparently, including the goddamn brakes and shifters and the lines for both.
Writing about this now, I suddenly realize the most embarrassing part wasn’t the crying, which came later when I finally found a taxi driver who would let me put the bike in the back seat. The most embarrassing moment was when I saw my dismembered bike and had to walk over and admit that it was mine. Admit that I was the careless white girl, undoubtedly rich and thus somehow deserving of being robbed, with my expensive yoga mat slung across my shoulders, who was being forced to confront the fact that everything isn’t just ok all the time, like it has almost always been for me. I saw them look sideways at me as they passed and think, “Estupida, what did you expect?”
When a kind cabbie finally let my bike ride in the back seat, it meant I had to ride up front with him. As soon as I slid into the seat and the door closed, the tears started streaming down my face. I wasn’t sobbing, wasn’t really making any noise, but he knew what was going on. I turned toward my window and he turned towards his, and we didn’t speak until I asked how much the fare was.
The guy next to me on the plane also looks away as I turn toward the round-cornered window, smear the tears with my fingertips, and try not to sniffle too loudly. I’m relieved he doesn’t really speak English, although he says, “Sorry,” when he bumps my elbow and, “Here, I take,” when I want to get my dinner out of the way so I can finish writing this.
This story about Vietnam is the first I can remember that has made me feel the need to write so strongly and so immediately. To tell a story that makes it impossible for other people not to tell their own stories — that is a daunting standard, but one I want to try to hold myself to.
My single most persistent goal with this blog is to inspire people: to quit their crappy jobs, to give fair due to their creative impulses, to admit their vulnerabilities. Not because I know a ton about it or am a perfect example, but simply because I am trying to do those things and we all need support wherever and whenever we can get it. I feel lucky to have already seen instances where telling my own story prompts others to share theirs. The overwhelming response to my last post, begging for help writing when I was traveling and tired and uninspired, is a perfect example.
I’ll continue to work toward that goal — of inspiring people to tell stories by telling my own — but since I’m just starting out, I’ll leave you with this, from someone who has already arrived.
“Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” –Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried.