We Need to Take Care of Our Endings

1. A middle-aged woman sitting at a kitchen table.

She has given up on wiping the sweat from her face — above her lip, round her nose. Her armpits stink. She is embracing the heat.

She has just watched a long film with her teenage daughter, “Call Me By Your Name.” It is the kind of film that evokes nostalgia, longing, the slow languid tension of sensuality and sexuality emerging.

As she watched, the woman remembered her own most potent moments of awakening. She was 18. Then she was 36. Never before had she realized these numbers, the ages, both representative in Jewish numerology — gematria, a mystical system she has always wanted to study — of life. Chai.

Naturally, he mind jumps ahead. What’s next? Fifty-four. That is a decade from now. Where will she be sitting in ten years? Will her wife be in the next room? Her daughter will be 25 then, having surely experienced her own moments of falling, coming into herself, loss, and hopefully good love.

She is wistful. Old enough to know that nostalgia is not a place to live, nor is regret. Young enough to imagine a future. Her daughter wanders into the room looking bothered by the heat and ridiculously cute in a bandanna and short, cut-off shirt with a black and white checkered design that reminds the woman of a flag at a race-car track.

“Slow down!” She wants to say to her, but she knows better. The girl, barely a girl yet still a girl, will grow at her own pace. She looks ready for the world — sitting on the floor against the fridge. The woman sees herself and not herself. They are not the same, and yet they have an understanding. Maybe someday, they will tell each other all of the stories.

2. For now, they will remain mother and daughter.

Sometimes friends, yes, but the woman believes the girl needs a mother, too. A guide, a mountain. A mountain guide.

The next night, they go for a ride just before sunset to get ice cream — mother and stepmom, daughter, and puppy. Instead of just the drive-through as they’d planned, they wind up going to the farm, where the ice cream is made on site, with milk from the cows the puppy is scared of.

It quietly thrills the woman to have this kind of together time, where all three of them are oohing and aahing over the light, pulling over to take pictures of old milk trucks and barns in the setting light. The heat has broken just enough tonight that they can ride with the windows down, enjoying a bit of a breeze.

She notices something: How often she longs for the very thing she has. As they drive home, continuing to marvel at the cloud formations and reflection of the last of the sunset against the hundreds of windows of the tall university library building, she experiences one of those moments when she can see it for what it is: Freedom. A blessing.

Why freedom? Because to have access to a vehicle and gasoline to power that vehicle, a set of keys all her own, is freedom. To have a woman whose ring she wears on her left hand — freedom. To be raising a daughter to follow and trust her own path — freedom.

Perhaps the longing is, then, the anticipation of loss. Loss due to the inevitable, which is that everything changes. And loss threatened by more violent forces — a government who would strike her family unit down, deny her children rights, take away health insurance subsidized by the state.

She knows others have been living this far longer than she has. And she’s determined not to mix up outrage with the primal drive to protect her own privileges. Her freedom to drive on this night with her wife and daughter is inextricable from everyone’s freedom. She feels messy in this. And there is also a clarity to it.

3. There often is — a clarity inside of a mess.

In fact, as soon as the woman saw these, she really SAW it. A mess is a swirl of confusion, perhaps, too many pieces, or a cloud. She pictures the Peanuts character — what was his name again? Pigpen? Something like that. The one with the cloud of dust always around his head. He is a mess. But he’s in there.

She realizes that perhaps the only thing of value she can pass along to her daughter is this: Sitting still, with a hand over your heart, is sometimes the most powerful action there is. It’s not passivity, no. Quite the opposite, as it requires presence and intention. Nonaction is sometimes the only way to let the dust settle, literally, so as to be able to see the clarity of what it’s occluding.

She scoffs for a moment at her own vocabulary. Who uses words like “occluding,” anyway? She resists the urge to look it up, to learn its roots. It seems like one of those words that would surely have an interesting etymology.

But she doesn’t. Looking up the roots of words, while entertaining, is sometimes a form of avoidance. Back to the cloud of confusion, she wants to tell her daughter something: When you don’t know what to do, wait and do nothing. Or, when you don’t know what to do, follow Anne Sexton’s lead and put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard. Or, when you don’t know what to do, trust yourself. Sit. Be still. Let the dust settle, no matter how urgent things feel. (Unless they are urgent, she wants to add, in the immediate sense, i.e. you are in imminent danger — in that case, do whatever you need to do to get safe.)

She pauses to take a deep breath. Is this too much, she wonders, or not enough? A quiver of panic shoots through her — she knows there is only so much time and soon her daughter will be all the way grown.

4. She sits in the cold of the air-conditioned living room.

She’s considering the moment earlier in the day, when she asked her daughter if she’d make the calls they’d agreed about. Calls to colleges the woman would never be able to afford, but on which her daughter had set her sights nonetheless. Calls to ask how the admissions people would view an applicant who had essentially skipped high school and gone on to get an Associate’s degree from a community college instead.

She got her haircut that day, for the first time in years. Not short, just a trim to clean up the neglected ends. How often is it that ends are neglected, she wondered, as she sat in the faux leather swivel chair, enjoying the time to be cared for by another woman, the owner of the salon, a woman named Frankie.

If you neglect the ends, you don’t get a complete story. Her mind goes back to the hour-long show, Nanette, by an Australian comic named Hannah Gadsby. She’d been hearing about it from others nonstop and finally convinced her wife to watch it together.

She — Hannah — talks about endings. About how comedy is all about creating tension and then relieving tension. All about the beginning and the middle of a story. Being so good at her job for so long, as a comedienne, had essentially trapped her in the most traumatic middle of her own story, without an opportunity to have an ending, to tell the whole thing, to let herself grow and heal.

We need to take care of our endings. What did this have to do with parenting in this moment? She pondered for a moment, looking up at the room as if an answer might materialize out of thin air.

She needed to let her children have their own stories.

5. Would you believe the heat wave had broken?

Now she sat in the kitchen, the same green chair where she’d begun this story days before. She could hear the puppy snoring under the coffee table in the next room, where her wife was reading.

Two days earlier, she’d spent the day with her own mother and her daughter — three generations. It had been her mother’s idea, the “spa day” that turned out to be a couples massage for the 44-year old and the teen, followed by a delightful discovery of the best falafel this side of Israel and some thrift store and window shopping. They didn’t buy anything, though the grandmother oohed and aaahed her way through a store packed to the gills with buttons and fabrics.

Outside the store, the woman chuckled to her daughter: “Seeing your Baba ooh and aah over buttons isn’t something you’ll soon forget.”

She felt herself relax over the course of their hours, moving away from tricky topics like gender pronouns and easing into the kind of wandering in a small town that can lower a person’s blood pressure if they let it.

She let her mom do the 45-minute drive home and closed her eyes in the passenger seat, while the teen listened to music on headphones in the back.

“Reminds me of the old days, when we used to vacation together,” said the grandmother. The woman nodded, pushing the lever that leaned the leather seat further back. She remembered. She remembered being a child on those vacations, and she remembered her own child being young on still later ones.

They’d likely not vacation together again, for more reasons than the woman would get into now. Needless to say, a day was just right. They stopped for ice cream before returning home, letting the summer day run long. She remembered how she used to have such a hard time saying goodbye, letting go. She still did.

But it would get easier. She would let her daughter, and her son for that matter, have their own stories. She would let them grow up. And she would always be there, when they needed her. This much she knew.

* * *

I wrote “Picture This” as part of the July Pop-Up Microstory group. Watch for the next one in the fall!

Here’s the microstory I wrote in May:

https://www.jenaschwartz.com/denial-not-an-option/

Creating a Peaceful Queendom

I found a tick on my neck this morning. Gross. The good news is it was crawling, not burrowing, and I was able to pluck it off and flush it down the toilet. We know lyme is no joke, and it’s become such an epidemic here in the northeast. Especially now with a pup in the house, we’ll be extra extra careful.

Somehow I am managing to work, but I’m telling you, this little doggy is distracting! I keep joking that she’s going to get arrested, since isn’t it against the law to be that cute? She’s smart and stubborn and wrinkly and rumply and funny and affectionate. She hops like a little bunny when she’s excited, grunts like a piggy when she’s sleeping, and her little belly hangs almost to the floor while she’s gobbling up her food.


She had her very first playdate today, with a patient Australian shepherd. Bulldogs tend to play pretty rough with each other, and other dogs are not shy to point out that that’s not universally ok in the canine order, so she did get gently put in her place a couple of times. Would that we all had such good teachers.

I just ate some salad. I’m ambitiously wearing running clothes (I find that if I wear running clothes, I have a 50/50 chance of actually running, as opposed to a zero chance when I don’t).

* * *

Chalupa has been with us for five days and she already has a dozen or so nicknames. Aviva has taken to calling her Grumpus Rumpus. Fluffernutter Rumpelstiltskin has come out of my mouth more than once, as has Little Miss Muffet. Most I call her Chupa or Chuppers (with an “ooo” sound in the middle).

Every day, I delete friend requests from fake men. Usually they are pictured wearing military uniforms. They live in places like Afghanistan, Germany, Russia, the Czech Republic, and sometimes India. Today someone “poked” me on Facebook. Delete, delete.

Spring is fully here after such a long, cold April. I noticed this morning, as I poured my coffee, that the trees have greened up. The birds have discovered the two little feeders we suctioned to the kitchen windows, and it is thrilling to see a nuthatch, a mourning dove, a finch with a seed in its mouth, before it darts off to tell the others.

I joked to Mani the other day, it’s the peaceful kingdom I’ve always dreamed of. Well, ok, not exactly, but I think I really am happiest when there are kids and animals and open windows and green growing things around.

* * *

The other night, we had a great conversation about how to come up with new things to write about. Mani was saying she can’t imagine *not* having new things to write about. With 24 hours of new experience every day, how could there ever be a shortage?

It really got me thinking about imagination, curiosity, discipline, and ways of seeing. We can be such creatures of routine, habit, status quo, and same old same old. And while some of that may serve us — me — well, it can also have a dulling quality.

But staying open, remembering that we are always changing and growing, that while our days may look alike, every moment is actually brand new, this comes as good news.

* * *

So here I am, this woman in her mid-40s. I spent the first half or so of my adulthood trying to contort myself to fit the image of what I thought my life should look like. (Hint: I coveted other women’s mudrooms and breadwinning husbands, among other things.) Coming out, not fitting in, basically forced me to also have to reexamine the ways I’d previously hoped to be taken care of.

I was terrified about losing my kids, and helped by the fact that their dad was committed to co-parenting rather than taking out his grief and anger on them, and by the fact that I was a middle-class white woman living in Burlington, Vermont, where being a single gay mom was hardly unusual.

Later, after I remarried and my wife was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, I left my job at a private college in order to care for her full-time. My considerable privilege — social currency and credibility from years of writing and having an online presence, two degrees thanks in no small part to parents with the means to contribute to my education as a young adult, and the knowledge of how to navigate professional transitions borne of class privilege — no doubt greatly helped when it came to making that jump. I did not just pull myself up by my bootstraps.

I worked my ass off, navigating Mani’s complicated medical situation, caring for my kids, and starting a business that would be our sole source of income. And while no one else could have filled my shoes and done any of these things for me, it would be a very incomplete story to say I did it alone.

These things are intricately connected: Choosing and nurturing a new kind of family, writing about real life, staying aware of my own privilege without sliding into shame or guilt, amplifying the voices of women of color, honoring my own lived experience, not silencing myself, weaning myself from the story that I need a man or authority figure — a father, a husband, a boss — in order to feel secure in this world, learning to rely on myself in ways I didn’t know I could, and being an advocate for trans kids and kick-ass teenagers who are changing the world but still need rides everywhere.

* * *

These are the new stories. These are the old stories and the new stories crashing together, alchemizing into something we never imagined.

And if there’s anything we desperately need more than ever, it’s individual and collective imagination. It’s a willingness to have been completely wrong, and the fortitude to learn and grow together in new ways.

* * *

When I came out, these line from “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats coursed through my veins:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Today, I hear them again. The old centers cannot — must not — hold. The old stories can be put to rest. We need to use our passion, conviction, and intensity wisely. Watch for ticks, give a good belly rub to your nearest pup, and be true to who you are.  This may be the way to create a truly peaceful king– ahem — queendom.

When Denial Is No Longer an Option

1. In the beginning.

Innocent. Exciting. Naive. Pulsing with possibility. In the beginning, the promise and potential, the envisioning, as if it were up to us how things would unfold. In the beginning, sheer determination, make it happen, new and novel. in the beginning, hope.

In the beginning, disbelief. This can’t be happening. What’s happening? In the beginning, confusion, chaos, upended, uncertain. In the beginning, a hint of the ending, a knowing. In the beginning, denial, burial, eyes forward. In the beginning, if we talk enough it won’t be happening.

In the beginning, sincerity. So earnest. In the beginning, youth that doesn’t know it’s young. In the beginning, leaning hard on old models and seeking out new ones, wide-eyed if not quite bushy-tailed. In the beginning, follow the rules, do the things, sleep without cold sweats or questions. Sweep away the questions.

In the beginning, discomfort tendriled around intrigue. No name for it yet. A woman in a room. A leather cuff. A nuthatch in a pine tree. In the beginning, distance. Othering. I’m not like you. In the beginning, something else was unraveling. The ability to contain myself any longer.

In the beginning, everyone had my all. In the beginning, there was no stopping me. In the beginning, angels braided little flowers into my hair. In the beginning, I finally knew I was here.

2. I finally knew I was here.

It was a homecoming, the kind of religious experience you hear about but don’t often, or ever, experience firsthand. Finally knowing I was here felt like birth and death in the same moment, a shattering of self that was at once devastating and liberating. If I told you it was pouring rain, and there was thunder and lightning all around, you’d think I was being dramatic. But it’s true.

What’s also true is that life sometimes tears us wide open. And this is not pretty but painful, the kind of pain you don’t know if you’ll be able to endure. I didn’t know. I was crazy with energy, as if someone had plugged me into a light socket. That electrified, that bright, and that dangerous.

This morning — nearly eight years later — my child was looking at pictures from his early childhood. A few years before the moment I’m describing, we were, by all appearances and even our own accounts, a happy family of four. That was before, before, before.

But the truth is, even the before is a kind of middle, because nothing happens overnight, not even the things that seem sudden and shocking that change everything instantaneously. Like anything that grows or dies, there is a process made up of an uncountable number of micro-moments. The truth is, I was listening for this. I listened for it my whole life.

Sometimes the listening made me feel lost, disconnected, frightened, and depressed. Other times, it was like a call at a frequency I couldn’t yet decipher. One thing is for sure: It kept getting louder.

3. It kept getting louder.

I look back now, on things I wrote during the years leading up to that week, that day, night, that instant, and it’s so clear. I was digging for the landmine.

I was sitting.
I was running.
I was making dinner and doing bath time with kids.
I was making lunches.
I was doing dishes.
I was coaching clients.
I was writing blog posts.
I was mapping out the book I couldn’t quite write.

The book was my life. The book was me.

The book was my sexuality and my being burning an exit route through the middle of my body.

My fear was so big. My fear of losing what we had. I held on for dear life. So dramatic. I also loved. Blah blah blah blah.

OK, so what really? What kept getting louder? Not a sound, so much as a knowing. A knowing that had lived in a bubble way off to the right or left of my consciousness, above and over a bit — if you were here I would show you.

The container thinning over time like a cervix until there was no choice — the truth would not leak like amniotic fluid; it would burst forth, like labor that comes on hard and fast and shakes the foundations of your house of cards.

And then I was there, holding my newborn self, weeping for what could no longer be, and observing the rubble.

God has a way. God has a way of insisting. You can fight it but in the end, not really. And also, fighting it will leave you exhausted, injured, soul-sick.

Mary Oliver knew, when she wrote: “Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”

I gulped the night air, texting frantically. “What do we do now?” She asked. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” I replied. But I knew. I was just terrified to say it out loud.

4. I was terrified to say it out loud.

It had been one thing to tell her how I felt, another to tell my husband, “I am gay,” and ultimately, the hardest thing I’d ever faced for us to make the decision to separate. Finally, though, after a summer of tension, lies and truths and tears and hours of talking and impossible distance, it was clear. I was already gone. Staying together was not an option. Once I came out, there was no putting me back in.

I’ve written this story so many times in different ways. Sometimes I think, why am I still writing it? It was so seminal. The fault line between one life and another. And like a gaping wound, fault lines close and heal but they leave scars and memories.

Will I close the door once and for all and forever on those days, or will I keep writing these snippets behind closed doors, even as I look out at the life I have now — my beloved napping in the bedroom, my brand new puppy snoring in the kitchen, my daughter who turns 16 this year sitting here in the living room with me, my son entering middle school next year.

These kids were four and seven then, when we said the thing to them out loud that changed their worlds irrevocably: “We’re no longer going to live together.”

I know more than half of American children grow up with divorced parents. It’s not that unusual. But I was raised to think divorce was one of the Most Terrible Things Ever. (Along with debt. God forbid.)

In this moment, my house is peaceful. I am learning, layer after layer, to let my insides be peaceful, too. The kids are alright.

5. The kids are alright.

In this moment, my house is peaceful. I am learning, layer after layer, to let my insides be peaceful, too.

In the end, that’s so much of what this life is. Returning, again and again, to what it feels like to be fully myself. It’s so easy to drift, to forget, to get hyper-focused on that which causes anxiety or simply on the revolving needs of keeping a household humming.

In the end, it’s a quality of being honest that is liberating. For so long, I wasn’t fully honest. I lied outright about some things, like smoking, and in a more subconscious way about deeper things, things that I didn’t have names for, things that were so big I was afraid to expose them.

In the end, coming out was freeing, but it wasn’t the end. It was really the beginning of a whole new book, so many chapters of learning and unlearning how to be myself without slipping back into the shadows. I slip up — I remind myself everyone slips up and that I am not exempt from this being human thing. But I come back. I come back to the courage to sit down and say: I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m tired. I’m not sure. I’m sorry.

In the end, there is this: Sitting here in the living room with the windows open, glancing up every minute or two at the newly budding trees along the side of the driveway. The smell of summer rain and a wind picking up in the pines. A family changing and growing, and not in the ways we tried to cling to when the old family came apart.

I had tried to keep it together even after the ending, and what I’ve learned is that sometimes, you have to let a thing go all the way. Not just partway, just newly configured, but just… done. This has been hard for me, a keeper, a holder-on. But it also delivered me here. And here is beautiful. Here is real. Nothing buried, nothing burning a hole in me.­­

I am so grateful.

The Awesomeness of Being Wrong


Story: “I suck at following instructions.”

WRONG. 

It may not sound like much. But when the new kitchen island arrived on the side porch and Aviva and I attempted to lug it inside, that was my first thought. I slit the box open and carried the pieces upstairs, two or three at a time. I recycled and/or discarded the cardboard, styrofoam, and plastic. I winced at the packaging and got dizzy from the off-gassing. (As an aside, did you know that off-gassing emits as many as 99 known toxins into the air for up to 10 years? We are seriously reconsidering purchasing anything again that uses formaldehyde).

By the time I plunked the bag of hardware on the kitchen table and surveyed the dozens of pieces of pressed wood, I thought: Welp, my work here is done. Time to wait for Mani to come put this baby together.

After all, I suck at this kind of thing. That is the story I’ve told my whole life. Yes, I did manage to assemble a cute night table from Ikea a few years back (one of the drawers wobbles, but still…). And wait, I put together those two yellow desks in our room… No, no, I think. Those don’t really count. They were relatively straightforward jobs, nothing so big and complicated as this thing.

When we got a new bookshelf and TV stand for the living room, we even called friends over to help. Granted, it was as much an excuse to see them and hang out as a bona fide need for help. But still, the reassurance of other eyes and hands has historically brought no small comfort.

I used to be someone who waited for a man to put together the furniture. Then lo and behold, I married a woman who happens to be really good at this (she once spent hours and hours putting together a loft bed — with a slide — in Pearl’s room). I still didn’t have to look at my own learned helplessness.

* * *

Story: “I am someone who likes being taken care of.”

WRONG. Well, sort of wrong. 

At the same time, I remained ignorant of my own capacity and ability and power by wanting other people to take care of me. “Other people” most often implied people of the male persuasion. Fathers, husbands, guy friends — who can come put this damn thing together?

Now, I still like being taken care of. But being taken care of while knowing I am fully able to take care of myself is a whole different ballgame. Since my first marriage ended and I came out of the closet, so much about who I thought I was and the stories I told about myself have undergone seismic shifts — including this one.

I’ve been the breadwinner for the past three years, bringing in more income on my own than I did previously in my full-time job. I work a lot. I also get to be home when Pearl gets off the school bus, and go for spontaneous coffee dates with my teenage daughter who’s not in traditional school this year. Mani and I are both home all day, a reality that began as necessity when she was sick and became a choice when I became self-employed.

I was so scared to leave my job. SO scared.  That was 2015. Now I still have bouts of insecurity, both they don’t come quite as often or last as long. The fear no longer feels like terror or panic, more like an annoyance, a stinkbug that got in the house from under the garage door. I open a window and flick it back outside.

It feels good to let this story fall away. The one where I need someone else, probably a man, to make the money and to put together the furniture purchased with said money.

It also feels good  to redefine “being taken care of.”

* * *

I AM taken care of. I have a wife whose unconditional belief in me, patience, and presence is beyond anything I’ve ever known. She doesn’t coddle my rehabbing addiction to praise, and this in turn makes her support that much more reliable because I know it’s not contingent on her expectations of me. It just IS.

I can’t say what got into me last week, but I tackled those instructions like a boss. Once I started, I didn’t want to stop. One step at a time — ABC, 123, bird by bird — I put that baby together. I could hardly believe it myself — I was doing it! I’m someone who can read and follow assembly instructions, who knew?!

The best part, in addition to some mad satisfaction at my newfound badassery, was how WRONG I had been about myself. Wrong, wrong, wrong! All those Instagram posts saying how the mere sight of the instruction booklet stressed me out? Completely, fabulously, gloriously, magnificently WRONG.

Now we have a little more cabinet and counter space in our kitchen, and I have added a bit more evidence for myself of a new, true story. One where I’m capable, grown-up, and able to earn money, care for my family, put furniture together, stay when things get really, really hard, and forgive myself when I fuck up. Thankfully, finding out who I really am is an ongoing thing. I wonder what else I’m wrong about, and can’t wait to find out.

* * *

Story: I’m so much more than the stories I tell myself about myself.

RIGHT.

The Impulse to Know Each Other’s Stories


On Thursday evening, I drove over the Notch to pick my daughter up from rehearsal a couple of towns over. For a couple of miles, the car behind me was so close on my tail I thought it was going to hit me. I could see the drive in the rear view mirror; he looked liked he might have been bopping out to some tunes.

At one point, he fell back, and I felt relieved — until I saw his crossing the yellow line. I had no way of knowing if he was drunk or high or just totally distracted. All I knew was that he then sped up and was right on my tail again, showing zero signs of slowing down.

“911. What’s your emergency?” I pushed away the thought that I was overreacting and told the operator that an extremely erratic driver was behind me and I didn’t feel safe. She asked if he was being aggressive towards me. I told her I didn’t think so. I managed to read his plate  number backwards in my mirror, trying not to make it obvious that I was looking at his car as I spoke the letters and numbers into the receiver.

The operator connected me to the local police, who asked me for my name and the make and model of my vehicle. I supplied this information and about a mile later, I turned right while the car in question continued straight.

I wondering what would happen if they pulled this guy over. Was he intoxicated or high? Would he know it was me who’d made the call? I felt a rush of fear, fear I knew was unfounded. But adrenaline serves a purpose in small doses and appropriate situations, and I allowed myself a few minutes in the school parking lot to calm myself before Aviva came walking towards the car. I will admit that I Googled the license plate number, thought honestly I can’t say why I bothered or what I thought I would find. Maybe there was an impulse to know who this guy was.

I always want to know people’s stories.

This morning, I finally stopped by the Hospice Shop to donate the bags of clothes I’ve been hauling around for weeks. It was just warm enough as the sun rose higher in the sky to be to go to the free vacuums on Route 9, and believe me, the inside of our car needed a once over. At one point, my vacuum seemed clogged and I asked the guy next to me if I could use the one closer to his minivan, which he was detailing. No problem, he said. He had tunes pumping from inside the car. He didn’t look like the minivan type.

I wondered about his life. I wondered who he voted for in November.

Later, at Trader Joe’s after a short run on the bike path behind the mall, I asked the cashier how her day was going. She said she couldn’t complain, since she has a short shift tomorrow. “Oh, right — Easter! I forgot,” I told her, “since I don’t celebrate it myself.” After she finished bagging up my stuff and I paid, she wished me a good weekend, “not celebrating Easter.” Then she added, “but maybe celebrating Passover.” For a second, I wondered how she knew I was Jewish, but before I could say a word, she pointed at the Hebrew letters inked on my left arm. “Thanks — take care,” I said.

I wondered about her life. Her eyes were deep-set and sad.

We encounter each other in so many ways. Every day, encounters close and distant have the potential to change our lives. Mostly, they don’t, at least not in big, obvious, dramatic ways. But I keep thinking about that driver. The woman whose eyes met mine for a millisecond while I sat inside Starbucks yesterday and she walked down the ramp. Faster than fleeting. Unmemorable, mostly.

And yet — all the time, we are meeting eyes, gauging what feels safe, deciding where to connect and where to stay in our own sphere. So much plays into this: Prejudice of all kinds, assumptions that may be wildly false, instincts that defy cognition. Often all of this plays out so quickly and subconsciously that our actions are reflexive.

I’m not sure what my point is. Something about developing the wherewithal to see myself and choose with awareness how I interact — or don’t interact — with the world as I encounter it. Something about separateness and connection, choice and force. These play out every single day in so many minuscule ways, and also every single day in so many global, unfathomable ways.

Knowing where we are — both physically in our bodies, in the very vehicles that carry us through space, and also in terms of the beliefs and biases we bring to every single interaction — can make such a difference in what kind of energy we bring to the world. More often than not, we won’t actually stop and get to know each other’s stories. But all of this has me thinking about what would change if we did.