When I was a first grade teacher, I often hung out on my front porch swing grading papers. On a pleasant Sunday afternoon I sat with a stack of math worksheets on my lap when I suddenly smelled the sweet odor of cigar smoke. When I looked up, I saw my neighbor walking toward the house.
"Hey there," David smiled. "Mind if I visit a while?"
I capped my pen. "Nope...not at all. I could use a break."
After a few minutes of playful banter, David looked me in the eye and said, "You know, Kate, I want to smoke what you're smoking."
I burst out laughing. "I don't smoke at all...what're you talking about?"
"I've only known you for a year or so," he said. "And I've watched you go through a lot of crap and you always seem to come out on the other side even better. So I'd like to have what you have."
"What're you smoking?" David teased.
"Nothing," I smiled. "I just do what I have to do."
"Yeah, but you've done it on your own," he said. "Doesn't it get hard sometimes? I mean without someone there to help?"
"Sure," I nodded. "But I'm pretty good at kicking my own ass."
David laughed. "Well, yeah...I can see that. But would you like to have a relationship someday?"
"I think so...I hope so."
David gave me a kind smile. "Well, from what I can see, you've already got it going on, so you don't really need a man."
"Thanks," I replied. "But I don't really think it's about needing one."
"No...it's about wanting one, which in my opinion is much better."
"How's that?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"I don't need a man to cut the grass or take out the trash or make me feel better when I'm upset or sad or angry," I said. "But I do want one to share it all...the good stuff and the bad. I guess it all boils down to what my intentions are."
"What's that mean?"
"I don't really know what I want in a relationship right now, which is probably why I'm not in one," I explained. "Once I figure it out, I suppose he'll just show up in my life."
"So it'll be fate?"
"I've learned that fate is what happens when I lead with fear," I explained. "Destiny is what happens when I lead with faith."
"See what I'm saying?" David said, puffing on his cigar. "I want to smoke what you're smoking."
I used to burn incense in my yoga studio, filling the air with enough Nag Champa to make my neighbors think I was smoking other stuff up there as well. These days I wait until it's warm enough to open the windows so the tendrils of smoke can waft out of the screens, yet still allow enough scent to linger behind. But I don't believe for one minute the incense is what David was talking about. Now I know he recognized what I still needed to develop over time, the necessary surrender I wrote about when I was going through the worst year of my life:
I’m blessed to have the basic human needs met, but the jury is still out on trusting my intentions. What if what I want is not in my best interests? This awful place I'm in may be why people stay in bad marriages, in jobs they don't want, in isolated communities. Why they use drugs or sex or alcohol or money to numb out. It’s why I used stress to avoid that which is true for me -- a surrendered life is the hardest one to live because I have to sit with myself and wait for what comes next.
I'm no longer living in that state of extreme desperation. In fact, this is shaping up to be the best year of my life, but not without some skinned knees along the way. I've had to wait a lot...for time to pass...for people to follow through (or not)...for a host of things that involve time and space and my ability to trust that my intentions will be met, but not always in the manner in which I need them to be.
Now I've learned to keep my purpose simple: I write purely to write. I work out only because I truly love to lift weights and run. I spend time with friends with no agenda involved. I get on my yoga mat with no intention other than to reconnect with who I am. I do these things just to do them, not for any goal or desire, not for a contract or a pat on the back or even to lose a few pounds. It's taken quite a while, but I've finally integrated the lessons David saw sprouting in me all those years ago and can be myself without drama, without faking anything.
One of my favorite moments from the film, When Harry Met Sally, is the deli scene in which one of the customers witnesses Meg Ryan's impeccably enthusiastic portrayal of a woman faking it. "I'll have what she's having," the customer tells the waitress, much to the delight of movie goers everywhere.
I've faked a lot in my life, too. Sometimes I felt it was necessary to salvage another person's feelings. Other times it was a way to protect myself. I probably could have won an Academy Award for all the acting I did in my twenties and thirties. Not that it did much good as I always ended up back at square one, wondering why my life wouldn't change. It was only when I took the time to consider the impetus behind my intentions that I learned the difference between fate and destiny.
Faking it meant I led with my fear...of being honest, of thinking I should settle when I knew something or someone wasn't right for me, of believing that if I told the truth, I'd always end up holding the bag. So fate showed up at my doorstep in the form of stalkers, students who didn't respect my boundaries, and a host of bad relationships in every way, shape, and form.
Over time I learned to speak my mind, even if it meant being alone, losing a position, or having to leave a place I dearly loved. Interestingly enough, each time I wasn't left holding the bag, but holding myself to a higher standard, one that led to a deeper faith in myself and the unknown path before me. Now how do I know that destiny is knocking on my door and not fate? No matter what happens, no matter who's involved, when it's destiny, at the end of the day, I can still look myself in the eyes.
And that's a blessing beyond measure.
Living a surrendered life, one in which I have clear intentions but am not tied to a specific way in which they manifest, has been the most difficult, miraculous, heart-breaking, yet heart-opening challenge. In the past year, I've left my inner-Hermit behind and finally discovered what I want in a relationship. It's taken a lot of soul searching and struggling and letting go of old patterns of behavior, but it all comes down to this: I want someone who is at peace with himself so he can be in a peaceful relationship with me...in whatever way we intend to create it.
Perhaps on that Sunday afternoon all those years ago, David could see the seeds of self-acceptance I was only beginning to cultivate. Now that they've come into full bloom, I'm ready to welcome whatever destiny has in store for me...with a little faith and an open, peaceful heart.