Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Fight with my Umbrella: Some Musings on Stress and the Art of Winking

You might have read this blog title and thought, "I know Hilary likes to combine unlikely things together and draw artsy conclusions, but what in the world do stress and umbrellas have to do with winking? And why in the world was Hilary fighting with her umbrella? It's an inanimate object!

You'd be perfectly within the logical limits of the human mind to ask such questions. I even ask these questions of myself as I write these blog posts (which I am doing at my kitchen table right now in lieu of working on some homework that probably needs to be done...). However, I'll do my best to make these musings interesting, perhaps even thought provoking.

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain. Not the gentle "pitter patter" that calls for warm cups of hot chocolate, sweatpants and a good book (try The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson). Not the angry "ka-BOOM" of thunderstorms that make you huddle in your fleece and wish that you lived somewhere it never stormed, like... St. Barts (maybe it storms there, but if it does, you never see on the calendar pictures of white sandy beaches and calm blue-green seas). No, this rain was the dull thudding of big droplets of water hitting the roof, soaking everything with a sort of boredom; it was as if the sky was saying, "Don't mind me, I'm just making puddles to inconvenience your outfit options." I donned rainboots and took my umbrella, and was ready to venture into the slimy wetness. I got out the front door and pushed up the part of the umbrella that is supposed to open above your head. Thinking I heard a "click" I then held it above my head, ready to take flight à la Mary Poppins.

Well, I hadn't actually clicked the umbrella part into place, so when I put it above my head, it collapsed back into itself, cascading water onto my head and down the collar of my jacket. If the sudden shower wasn't bad enough, I pushed the umbrella open again, heard a click, and the cycle repeated. Finally I was half-way down my block, my overweight bag holding high heels, a sandwich, and two notebooks slung over my shoulder, battling for my life with the umbrella.

I eventually triumphed, only to walk another 300 ft and stand under the bus shelter that meant I could put my umbrella away. Sometimes I think the inanimate objects in life are out to mock me. When I got off the bus at 16th St., I pushed the umbrella open again, only to walk a few blocks and realize it had stopped raining. The umbrella was no longer necessary, and neither were my hefty rain boots.

I was vindicated, however, when at 12:30pm I exited my office building (in the same hefty boots, troublesome umbrella in tow) and it was bucketing rain. I walked along 17th St. to M St. and I caught a glimpse of the beautiful Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. It's really breathtaking - this huge cathedral tucked away on M St., NW - a piece of a different world in the heart of the chaotic city. And it was then that I remembered that I have no reason to be stressed.

I don't know where the stress of this week has come from - I don't have a lot more work than usual, I have a routine and a schedule, and it's already November, which means the fall is flying by. I don't know if it is the beginning of a new policy project, or the feeling that this semester is going to slip through my fingers without even realizing it, or this weather (overcast but 75 degrees... raining but incredibly humid...). But whatever it is, school or rain or umbrellas that won't open and shower you with water on your way to work, I have felt stressed. I have felt like I can't quite touch down, can't quite feel my feet under me. And it's a disconcerting feeling, one that is all too familiar from my high school days.

But the counterpoint to my rain story is also the counterpoint to my stress. I was walking back to my building this afternoon after our policy briefing, passing a cool place called Bagels & Baguettes which is on Massachusetts Ave, NE. I was clomping forward in my boots (no rain, but my socks were soaking wet), sweating from the humidity, and generally wearing my stress all over my face. It was not the prettiest sight. As I trudged, a good looking, 20-something guy wearing khakis, a camel colored vest over a dark red tie, and dark brown loafers was crossing the street headed in the opposite direction. As we drew level he looked at me, and, I kid you not, he winked. He WINKED! I was so taken aback that I had been winked at by Mr. Vest that I smiled, and the smile turned to a laugh, and the laugh turned into a reminder that there is always a counterpoint to stress. There is always a counterpoint to umbrellas fights, to homework, to feeling like your life is perpetually running 45 miles ahead of you and you are being dragged by your hair to keep up. There is always a moment, however small or seemingly insignificant, that tells a different story. Today it was the wink. He did it artfully, just a quick smile and a one-eye blink and a slight wiggle of his left eyebrow. Other days it might be the woman who says "Have a great day!" in the elevator, or the quiet Bon Iver song that your iTunes decides to play for you. It might be a "good job on that policy brief!" from your professor or a hilarious and embarrassing run-in with a squirrel.

Whatever it is, cherish it. It is the counterpoint to stress, to the sensation of being overwhelmed, of being invisible, of being... off. It is the reminder that the world is a funny place, a wonderful place, a glorious place, just as it is broken and troubled and dark.

So, if you are in a week or a day when it feels like it's always raining, or you are working on a paper you can't seem to finish, or you're just feeling "blah," go practice winking in the mirror. It is guaranteed to make you laugh. And remember that we are given moments to be joyful as a reminder that life is good, however difficult it is to open our umbrella.


1 comment:

  1. I can't express how encouraging this was :]


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