Feb 3, 2013

Royal Oak Encounters of the Third Kind

January 19, 2013
Cue Richard Dreyfuss driving across the desert to the alien landing…

Cue Tricia driving home from work down the expressway… when the thought hit me: I don’t want to do this anymore. I couldn’t take one more day of being stuck indoors or encapsulated in my car because of the cold weather. I want to walk around in the sunlight and taste the air again! I want to feel like I’m living and not just dragging through another day.

So I took a detour to Royal Oak to take a walk around Main Street. The wind froze my cheeks as I pounded the pavement. I soaked up the multitude of smells from restaurants serving dinner. The influx of delicious aromas buzzed the synapses of my brain to life. A train crossed the tracks through town and I ran to the gates to watch it, feeling the rumble under my feet as it passed. I felt a little more alive.

The Quintessential Pastry & Coffee

I’m re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love. If I had a similar memoir, it would be Eat Eat Eat. After reading pages upon pages from the Italy section of the book, filled with pastries, pastas, gelato, cappuccinos– well, it was no wonder I felt a craving for cannolis.

I popped into a local bakery and bought two cannolis to share with a good friend. I wouldn’t be seeing them until later that evening, so in the interim I chose a piece of chocolate-covered pistachio baklava to tide me over (although the bakery is award-winning, I think the baklava served at Oasis is in another league altogether). I took my white bakery box, tied with the red string of sinful desire, and walked to the corner café for some hazelnut coffee to pair with my new treat.

Usually when I go to eat something deviating from the Paleo blueprint (grass-fed meat, fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts) I am overcome with guilt. Considering I’m down to a size zero and work out at the gym at least twice a week, it’s not like the problem is that serious. In my mind it’s blown up bigger than it really is. So when I sat down to enjoy my baklava and coffee, I expected guilt and shame to take up their usual seats on either side of the table.

But this time, I didn’t invite them. “I’m already a healthy person,” I told myself. “I don’t have to completely abstain in order to reach some obscure level of perfection. I am great just the way I am. I am going to enjoy this meal.”

Of course sweets aren’t meant for constant consumption. I am always seeking to improve myself, but this doesn’t mean driving myself into the ground for every step off the straight-and-narrow path. It’s okay to enjoy yourself.

The baklava was flaky and dissolved in my mouth. I was mindful of every bite, and dismissed any negative thoughts that tried to impose themselves on the present moment. It was wonderful.

A Surprise Encounter

As I sat there, staring out the window sipping my coffee, a familiar face walked up to the coffee shop – Mr. V, my old high school teacher! As his order of double expresso was being made, I went up to say hello. We talked about Paris briefly, and his pursuit of a second Master’s Degree. I told him my plans to move to Japan this year.

He said, “I hope you really love Japan. Your students will be lucky to have you.”

Looking back, I was the one lucky to be taught by him. Mr. V is a funny, charismatic teacher. He encouraged his students to make a real-life impact on local politics, and raise awareness when the world was silent on issues like the Darfur genocide. This is the same teacher that gave me the highest compliment during my academic career, explaining at a conference that, “Tricia is one of those students every teacher wishes they had thirty of.”

Of course, I’m biased he’s so great because he recognized talent in me. I won the Mel A. Anderson Government Award based on his recommendation. I still have the plaque, stored away in the single box of possessions I’m keeping at home when I hit the road.

I hope to have a positive impact on my students’s lives in Japan, as Mr. V did with mine.

Following Your Heart

The chance encounter at the coffee shop left me feeling validated. I had understood somehow that if I took the time to visit Royal Oak something wonderful was bound to happen. By following your heart (in this case, a simple walk in winter), the right things will be drawn to you. People come into your life at just the right time for just the right reason – both positive and negative influences push you to be a better, stronger person.

There are three types of encounters: the ones we plan, the ones by chance, and those that are a combination of both our will and our fate. I choose to see life as a combination of the third kind. Destiny is composed of both free will and grace. You can’t be open to the blessings of life if you don’t go out into the world and live! Savor the sweetness of being alive.

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