There are moments when the main action of your life, your situation, whatever, pauses for a beat. One thing has ended. Another has yet to begin. The proverbial fork in the road is laid out. Some people live in this moment, setting up whole rooms with plush, velvet couches for which to pass the time, either studying both routes carefully or ignoring them entirely. Reveling, they are completely comfortable with the breath of inaction. A time-out.
Personally, I hate these moments. I run from them—or, rather, run out of them—with the fervor of a sprinter on Starbucks espresso (the kind that tastes awful but jolts your body into movement with an unnatural force). I am an all-or-nothing type of person. Standing still is not something that comes easily to me. I would rather be going somewhere, anywhere, than stuck nowhere.
It’s a quality I have usually worn like a badge of honour. I make a decision, choose a path and deal with whatever consequences come along.
But lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m missing something, dodging this beat. What is flashing past me when I fail to hit pause?
On our way up to a writing retreat in Prince Edward County, my friend Zara and I stopped for coffee along the way. Because I have recently been on a quest to seek healthier food options—for general well-being, not weight loss—I stared at the baked goods forlornly, commenting on my longing for a ginger molasses cookie. But, having cut out refined sugar, flour and dairy (and meat—but I ASSUME there was none of that in such a dessert item), I was looking at an off-limits menu.
“I’m going to order a ginger molasses cookie,” she said.
“You are mean,” I replied.
“Well, you’re going to have some,” she said.
“No, I can’t,” I said.
“Come on,” she said, textbook peer pressure pouring off of her. “Just a bite.”
“I can’t do just a bite,” I explained. “I am all-or-nothing type of person.”
I was resigned. So was Zara. She bought the cookie.
I had one bite. Then another. On our trip back out to the car, the cookie fell on the pavement. We ate it anyway (although, to be fair, Zara ate the outer edge of the road cookie and gifted me the inner bit, which had stayed mostly in the bag during its stint on the well-trodden ground).
We continued driving, eventually arriving at our destination nestled against a picturesque country backdrop. But that cookie moment stuck with me. Okay, I get it. It’s just a cookie, Dana. A sweet and delicious food substance that most people just stuff in their mouths and say yum. Move along now.
But, in my world, a cookie is never just a cookie. The metaphors for life are unceremoniously hidden in the mundane. And so, I asked myself as I lay in bed that night trying not to dwell on unfamiliar sounds of a potentially haunted house: What is it that causes me to be unable to exist in between two states? Why can I not take a moment to be undefined?
My epiphany came in the early morning hours, just after the sun crept into my room and lit up the walls with the promise of a new day. We had only gone to bed three hours ago, too hopped up on excitement and Prosecco to tuck in any earlier. I was tired. But my mind whirred with energy.
When you are living through a time defined only by its lack of classification, you will most likely grasp at any opportunity to draw that line in the sand. I am here, as a way to say I am not there.
My life is something of a No Man’s Land right now. And no, I don’t mean it in the sense of being without male company. Although… (let’s skip this digression). Rather, I mean it as a type of purgatory or limbo. An in between zone, no longer tied to the romantic relationships or work affiliations or even writing projects that have seemingly given my life purpose in the past. I am in that uncomfortable moment of pause, the moment that I hate. The beat.
It’s not an area that brings clarity for me, typically. It brings confusion. I cannot question one aspect of my life, the one that has come to a halt. I question everything: my beliefs, my decisions, my victories, my failures, my strengths, my weaknesses, my general course in life. Which is why, on the occasions that are made available to me, I choose to dart in a particular direction and stake a claim, waiting for the meaning to follow after. I eat the entire cookie. Or none of it.
In the end, it’s all about having a corner of control. Or at least feeling like you do. But does that control mean anything if you aren’t taking the time to think about what you’re doing with it? Or even why you need it?
My life is at a standstill. Forcibly so. When I really think about it, let the sediment of chaos settle so I can see the sharpness of the rocks beneath the clear water, I am struck by panic. What will happen? Which path should I take? How will the story end?
I have a very hard time seeing the freedom that inevitably comes with a crossroad. The plush velvet couch looks more like a mass of quicksand through my eyes. But following my instincts to rush through this time would be, I think, a mistake. In the future, I would look back at this period and shake my head, wishing I had taken more of a pause.
And so, I want to learn what it means to stay in this beat, to study its uncomfortable silence and reflect on what exists intrinsically in my life, when most of what I have known has been stripped away. I want to ignore the noise of multiple pathways that seem far off in the distance, and focus instead on the naked image in the mirror. Not with judgment. Just an insatiable need to know and accept. What was. What is. What could be.
Like the steady rhythm of a heart. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.
Beat. Beat. Beat…