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Thankful for the Spaces Between the lines

I grew up a line walker. I followed the rules and tried to do the things I was supposed to do when I was supposed to do them. I colored inside the lines, and kept my head down as I walked from one task to the next. Sure, I stumbled, had some wild dreams, and tried some crazy things (I still miss bike surfing, though I now have too clear a view of my own mortality … and dexterity … to revisit that phase.). And, I sometimes got into trouble, though it was often coincidentally or unintentionally (make sure you know who is driving the car tailgating your friend’s … and that said car does not have bi-colored lights up top … before you brazenly extend your middle finger). But, for the most part I lead a fairly boring, linear life … until circumstances pushed me off my path.

Lines are nice. You follow them, and you check the right boxes along the way with the expectation that they will eventually lead you to where you want to go … or where you think you want to go. But, when you are walking the line, you often don’t get a good look at what’s around and outside the line. When we are walking a line, we can sometimes fall into a pace that makes us believe that there is only the line. And, that can lead to panic when we find ourselves suddenly outside the lines … off the path and in the spaces between.

Whether you wander into the spaces, follow an opportunity, or are unceremoniously shoved there by someone with ill intentions, initial arrival in a space can be disorienting. The first instinct may be to claw and scramble back towards our path or even to the next closest one, in order to get “back on track”. If this doesn’t work you may feel panicked, lost, or overwhelmed. The uncertainty can feel crushing and the ambiguity can suck up all the oxygen, leaving you gasping.

The important thing to realize is that spaces can be liberating. Hopscotching from space to space could even reveal some lines you never knew existed. For example, when I boarded the airplane to begin my study abroad year in France as a junior in college, I had no idea that circumstances would edge me off my line and into Italy … a move that completely changed the course of my life in so many ways. Stepping off the train into a sea of fur coats that December in Turin was terrifying. I suddenly found myself in a country whose language sounded like each sentence was one mysterious and continuous word. I spent the first weeks of my time there hiding from the cleaning lady when the family wasn’t there, because, as sweet as she was, she spoke zero English, and watching reruns of Simon and Simon with the volume all the way down. My arrival was unplanned and the circumstances were suboptimal. I can still vividly recall (as in I still get goose bumps) the intensity of my anxiety, but given the chance for a redo, I wouldn’t change a thing. Once I found my footing, that space freed me from prior, self-imposed expectations and opened my eyes to opportunities I had never dreamt possible.

Even before Covid-19, we were thrown a series of curve balls, including ones that could only be found in the arsenal of the top hall-of-fame pitchers. So, we were already bobbing in a sea of uncertainty and far from any preconceived lines when my husband tested positive. While I spoke with a nurse to try to arrange testing for the rest of the family, hidden away from the usual family ruckus, a small blur crossed my line of sight. I walked closer to the window and looked over toward the construction dumpster parked in our driveway. What I initially thought to be one of the army of squirrels living around (after being evicted from) our home, turned out to be a tiny kitten. As soon as he saw me move, he disappeared under the dumpster.

Dumpster Kitten

We eventually caught the little guy (his story is embedded in a past post: This Is Not a Drill), but his arrival in our lives was not at the most convenient time, to say the least. It was kind of a space within a space. We were living in 1/3 of a home under extreme construction, dealing with Covid-19 and already had a dog and two cats. There was also a potential move in the works … with a potential upcoming rental. All in all it just wouldn’t work… So, I put up ads and my husband and I both asked around, knowing that we could not possibly handle another pet at the moment. Except that we have. Not only have we handled it, but he has become an integral part of the family. He went from a feral, spitting, growling bundle of fur to a floppy, purring, lap cat in around a week … ingratiating himself with even our most antisocial, and dare I say, judgmental, cat, Brachetto. He has since been dubbed Barolo, and has joined Brachetto and Spumante to become our third Italian feline wine. The point being that we were desperately trying to formulate some kind of a plan at the time, to find a path, and he was definitely NOT part of that plan. But, plans don’t always work out and sometimes gifts can arrive disguised as inconveniences.

And now, as I prepare the house and the kids for yet another move to another new state, at what can definitely be defined as an inconvenient moment in time, I am thankful for all the spaces between the lines. Mind you, I didn’t say I always like the spaces. It would often be much easier to follow a defined path, especially after all the work planning it out. I am thankful for them, because they shake me up like an etch-a-sketch and keep me on my toes. I am thankful for them, because they can clear the slate for new adventures to new paths … but in a real world kind of way. You see, life is very much like an etch-a-sketch or a magna doodle: the more you clean the slate as time goes by, the more little marks and traces are left behind from previous creations. The trick is to embrace those traces and to use the time spent in your spaces to incorporate them into your next creation, your next path.

Oh, and while in the spaces, it is completely acceptable to lose track of time and to, for example, post your “Thanksgiving” post on December 13th. 😉

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