It wasn’t yet mid-day, and I was on my fifth (of eight) subway ride of the day. I was exhausted.
All I wanted was a nap.
I yearned to curl up on a comfortable couch with a good book, read for a little while, and fall asleep, in a place where I felt safe. I longed to put my feet up, to find grounding.
This is the time for rest, but I’ve been stuck in a energetic drain. Maybe because I’ve been so tired, life has felt like such a struggle lately.
The If Only Place
I found myself in the if only place.
If only I had a place where I could feel a sense of spaciousness and safety to rest, I could get traction on my plans and projects. If only I felt support from someone who could take some of the load off of my shoulders.
If only things were different from how they are …
This place is dangerous. It fosters a false belief that what we want is on the other side of something we lack.
I immediately caught myself in this destructive thought habit. I started to write down the triggers and thoughts in my journal — a process I do to track the habit in order to shift it.
Seeing Through A Wider Lens
As I was in the middle of this process,
I noticed a woman board the subway with her son (I assume he was her son).
At first glance she looked like any other New York City mom with her child. She was well-dressed, wearing shades of grey, carrying a Gucci monogram tote bag.
But something unusual about her had caught my attention from a quick peripheral glance. As I looked closer, I noticed what it was: the woman was balancing her Gucci tote bag in the middle of her upper arm, at her bicep.
It wasn’t hanging off her shoulder, the way most women carry their tote bags. Nor was it perched in the crook of her elbow, the way you might balance it when your arms are full.
That’s because the woman had no elbow crease. She had no forearms.
Both of her arms ended where her elbows would have been. They were stumps. One had a finger and a half sticking out from it. The other had a little nub of a thumb.
The woman and her son sat down across from me. I tried not to stare as she fished through her tote bag looking for something. But it was hard not to be drawn to her. Not because of her arms, but because of her energy.
She had a huge smile on her face. Unlike everyone else on the subway (including me), who looked like life was beating them down, this woman didn’t seem at all in resistance to life. She was just in life. Present to the moment.
What We Take For Granted
As I watched her poke through her bag, I immediately thought about how if I had her arms I wouldn’t be able to type on my phone. Or hold a trapeze bar. Or do so many other things I often take for granted.
I wondered if her arms had always been this way. I wondered how she held her baby in her arms when he was little. I wondered how she got dressed.
I wondered about so many things.
As they prepared to exit the subway, I noticed how she used her body language to pull her son closer. She subtly extended her body, leading with her heart, motioning to him as if to hold her hand — if she had a hand to hold.
It was a beautiful moment and I felt privileged to witness it.
What’s On Your If Only List?
I reflected on the list that I had been making in my head. The list of what I felt I was lacking from my life in this moment.
The if only list.
I wondered if this woman has an if only list.
If she did have such a list, I imagine that it would look a lot different than mine. But that’s my hallucination.
My belief is that most of us have an if only list: the things that we think would make our lives easier. We have beliefs about our “minimum requirements” for living a good life. A fulfilling life. A life of ease. A life of meaning.
What’s on your if only list?
Maybe it’s physical stuff. Or amorphous things like “more money” or “more time” or “more space.”
I wondered if she ever has a moment where she thinks,
If only I had hands… or if only I had fingers…
Maybe it’s not something she thinks about.
We See What We Are
Of course, I don’t know anything about this woman. Maybe her life is an endless struggle. Maybe she is bitter and resentful. I have no idea.
What I observed — or perhaps imagined — is that she had a joy and lightness to her that I found lacking in myself in that moment.
And, of course, that I saw it in her means it is in me too, because what we see in others reflects what exists within us. She was a light in the darkness, reminding me to illuminate that part of my being.
The Lists That Weigh Us Down
After exiting the subway, I navigated through throngs of people in Union Square. They were rushing around in the frenzy of holiday shopping. Bags rested on shoulders and hung from elbow creases.
Hands clutched lists.
Things to buy. Things desired. Things to do.
These lists are the anchors that hold us in place. They block access to our feeling whole and complete as we are.
The Other Side of If Only
We often think a life of fulfillment, of meaning and purpose, a life of ease, is on the other side of if only…
Maybe what we truly desire is accessible to us right now.
If only we could see it.
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