You’re sitting passenger in a car traveling down an abandoned highway sometime around dusk but slightly past. You’re chasing the sunset, buildings lit like frame-frozen sparklers towering behind you in little cities growing littler as you drive. Your shoulders are uncovered and your hair flies free in the deafening bit of wind coming in through the sunroof that long past stopped letting in sun. The driver’s picked the music, and it’s something you enjoy but don’t know well enough to sing along. That doesn’t stop you, though; the trust flows as freely between the two of you as your body does with the motion of the music and the car. As freely as the words don’t.
On the side of the road there’s an armchair. It’s got curling arms and an arched back and you wonder how long its been sitting there. You don’t point it out to the driver. He’s in the middle of a particularly complicated rap and enjoying himself immensely and you don’t really want to share it with him anyway. He wouldn’t understand. The armchair stands like a sentinel, welcoming you to county whose line you just crossed without really reading the sign. There’s a word for this feeling, but words are so limiting. It doesn’t really matter who it belonged to, because in this moment, it belongs only to you and to the sunset and to the freedom of the road.
The unsureties of life suddenly don’t matter. The stickiness of the same job and the same house and the same people and the same city stretching as far as the eye can see. The unspoken questions that hang over conversations, the held back arguments and bottled hurt feelings. The bad habits and long-forgotten broken promises. None of that matters. Not right now.
Because that armchair, somehow, has convinced you that life is going to turn out all right. It sits there, desolate, alone, and it welcomes strangers and friends alike to the no name town off the highway you’ve already forgotten the name of. And it does it with dignity. With pride. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to fear, simply the open arms of a lost but not forgotten old armchair.
You remember that phrase, that mantra. Not all those who wander are lost. Deep roots are not reached by the frost. And suddenly you don’t even care that hipsters have appropriated it, because if it brings them joy and peace, who are you to judge?
You know the next time you roll like a pebble toad away from your problems, from relationships, from predatory tasks, you’ll see only the walls and the anger and fear. But maybe, just maybe, as you hit rock bottom and blend in, you’ll remember that displaced armchair, and you’ll stand again, and welcome yourself to this new phase of life. Because, after all, who can ever sit unsure in an old, proud armchair?
Frank Warren. Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks. Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton. Ever heard of any of these people? Unless you’ve done a really specific research paper recently, probably not. But I would be willing to put money on the fact that you’ve heard of what they made.
(PostSecret, TED, and Blue Man Group, respectively.)
I can’t currently think of more examples, much to my shame and disappointment, but I know there are so many more out there. (If you know of any, let me know in the comments!) These guys had ideas, put them into action, and they blew up–in a good way. I don’t think any of them (although I could be wrong) initially started their projects with the intent to have fame and fortune. They just wanted to do something cool. I want to be one of these people.
I want something I make, something I create, something I design to better the world somehow. I know that sounds selfish, but I specifically chose my examples because you haven’t heard of them. I didn’t include Mark Zuckerberg, or C.S. Lewis, or anyone else who’s a household name. I do want my name to become a household name, don’t get me wrong. But I care more about if whatever I do is a household name and is making people happy.
I suppose that even little things, even if they’re not recognized, can make the world better little by little. Changing one person for the better, or the happier, can make a difference, too. So here’s my obligatory nod to Father’s Day: Here’s a shout out to all the dads who make little differences every single day.
I still want to be famous. I still want world-changing ideas. I still want the ability and the chance to do something. I just don’t know what.
We interacted for a total of about twenty seconds, so I’m sorry if this note is short. I was always taught that I should hold the door for the person(s) walking in after me. Apparently you were taught the same; your parents raised you well. A lot of people, however, I’ve found, will hold the door. One of the perks of going to a Christian school is I can probably count on one hand the number of doors I’ve opened for myself. (Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Hyperbole, if you will. It got a point across.) Then there’s always the split-second judgment of whether or not someone is close enough to hold the door for him or her, then the awkward walk-jog of gratitude that happens after a misjudgment. But, I digress.
I don’t remember what state I was in, but when you held the door for me I was grateful. I was surprised, however, when you told me you liked my shirt. I was most likely on a road trip–we were at a travel plaza, after all–so I obviously wasn’t dressed my best. But I appreciated the compliment all the same. You sounded so sincere.
The thing about our interaction, my dear mystery gentleman, was that you made me think. I was a complete stranger, we’d probably never see each other again; it would have been easier for you not to say anything. It made my day that you chose to speak. You inspired me. From that moment, you inspired me to give compliments when I see something worthy of complimenting, or even when I just see someone who looks like he’s having a bad day. Normally, I would never open my mouth, especially to a complete stranger. This little shy girl is perfectly happy in her own little world. But you changed my mindset. So thank you. Thank you a hundred times over.
I suppose that “pay it forward” thing really does work. I can only hope that I inspired at least one person the way that you inspired me. Never stop being awesome.
A Flattered and Inspired Little Introvert