Adjusting Expectations

The writing time on our trip wasn’t really as I imagined, although I guess there is very little in life that ever meets our expectations. I imagined leisurely days seeking out quiet cafes and enjoying the views and sights of each city from the perfect writing spot. And yet today, the last day of our trip, is the first day I have found myself sitting alone with a pen and paper and it’s still not at all as I imagined.

The café is noisy, situated on a busy corner in Paris with lots of traffic. Someone has started smoking a cigarette a couple of tables away and the smoke fuels a mild sense of irritation as I try to settle in to this precious time.

I expected the postcard version: the pen and paper, the only sounds being the quiet clink of glasses and occasional bustle of the waiter, and an otherwise silent palette for my senses. I imagined the coffee hot and endless. I pictured the scenes full of other friendly people nearby who were open and willing to risk a brief conversation with a traveler.

Instead what I see and feel is the grit of the situation. There is no quiet landscape that inspires my pen to paint the picture in words. I feel the grit and I have to lean in and listen deeply for the experience I want to create here on what feels like the last opportunity to have even a glimpse of what I imagined. My son is in our rented flat just a couple of blocks away and the rest of the family will be stirring soon and readying for a shared day of sightseeing and connecting. To top it off my hip hurts so badly that even the two blocks to get to this city café felt like a stretch.

It’s not at all what I imagined. I’m grumpy and it feels hopeless to even try. Can I find a glimpse though?

The quality of what I imagined I’d find is still here somewhere beneath the cacophony of this corner. I can hear the distant notes of French music in the background, and if I strain I can hear the clink of glasses being washed in the back of the kitchen. Two elegantly dressed men sit just a few tables from me and class the place up a bit. The sun is glinting perfectly off the edges of my page and I have my favorite pen. The smoke that was so irritating before is fading now into a damp earthy smell that is more palatable to my senses.

I’m here perhaps not to fulfill the dream of sitting in a café and meeting a handsome stranger while penning a perfect novel, but instead as an invitation to that life. I’m sitting here at this café table, drinking cappuccino, letting the espresso and foam settle into an exquisite blend while I write a few words. It’s not the culmination of some startling shift in my life but more an invitation to more writing, more cafes, more travelling, more new people, and more opening to possibility.

I can see things in slow motion now. The traffic is not as loud and the sounds that were so jangling when I first sat down are now muffled in my head. What I’m looking for is here, when I breathe deeply and let it come to me. It’s subtle and quiet and maybe even more profound than if I had found the perfect quiet table situated between the calmness of a park and the pulse of the city. I may have been blocked if I had found the perfect place and I might have had nothing to say or write. I might have been too stunned by the seeming perfection to do anything but take it in.

Here in this bustling space, there is no loneliness. I feel no block but only an acute sense of observation and a looking for what is precious and colorful and alive in the midst of the backdrop of motor bikes and trucks, each gunning for a spot to maneuver in the traffic.

The light here is perfect.

The cappuccino is exquisite.

The mild temperature harkens of a perfect day to see the sights of Paris.

There is a gentle breeze that causes the hair around my face to dance near my eyes and cheeks with such gentleness that it nearly stirs me to tears.

The breath is here, nudging me, reminding me, to look beneath the surface.

I became caught up in the travelling and logistics and put my own desires aside. I pause now and give myself the gift of acknowledging the “okayness” of that reality and let myself remember all of the incredible moments etched in my brain as memories of this time. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write but more that I was attending to other experiences and taking them in rather than trying to sort them out in words.

Is there anything I would have traded in order to have more time to write? I’m not sure, but I am remembering once again the importance of filling my own cup before tending to the rhythms, needs, and schedules of others. It seems like too much to ask, to fill my own cup with the writing time, but it’s small really, and just needs a window of awareness and attention. It’s much like the size of a petite cappuccino, perfectly blended and soothing.

The basics of my senses are all I need—sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. All five of these play into the sixth sense of knowing, the knowing that returns all my senses to me by filtering out the noise and bringing me home to a refined awareness of what is present. The small window in a less than lovely café turns into the canvas of words that I otherwise would have missed.

Now looking back as I re-enter into life at home, I realize finding the gift of those few words written in the midst of chaos is exactly what I needed to help me integrate back into life here. We arrived home to the intensity of the news cycle: flooding, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes are present in my awareness, and I feel despair over the devastation that seems to be happening both around the world and close at home.

I remember now though, just as I did at the café, to look beyond the noise and remember what is right here. I can see between the headlines to find those who are helping one another through the winds and flames. I can then take a moment to ask where can I act, what can I write, how can I be that makes a difference?

Life is never what I expect. Plans shift, storms come, and circumstances change. The quiet moments of perfection may be glimpsed and enjoyed but for me are perhaps best to be savored for their elusiveness. I might just remember that café in Paris and the short time I found to write more than any other writing session or retreat I ever experience. The bliss was in the leaning in, the listening hard, the filtering out to find the one effortless moment when the wind caressed my face and my pen flew.

Moments like these are what happen between plans.

Moments like these are always enough.

All we have are moments.


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