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As the waiter peeped her nose into the frozen world of our weary adventure from the tiny crack in the door, teasing us with the warm smell of coffee, the last words we remotely anticipated were " We are closed! Starbucks closed at 3 pm ."
January 29th, 2014 was not an ordinary day in Atlanta. It was as if on this day mother nature dropped hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of invisible question marks and planted them around 159 counties that accommodate almost 10 million folks in the state of Georgia. A population that has travelled far and wide settling in this southern not-so-warm-anymore climate. Optimists who sought shelter in South way before Canadian geese thought migration was too much of a hassle. Question marks were enveloped neatly in snow flakes delivered by a polar vortex.
I, personally, had to fill in many blanks and sit for trials numerous times during those surprisingly frozen days. For me the ordeal started with trusting my intuition and setting off to pick up my son from school right when the first flakes kissed my beloved sleepy garden. The twenty minute drive to school turned into a two and a half hour journey of suspense. It was hard to comprehend why we were as stuck as we were. It was hard to believe how suddenly the roads had become an endless chain of vehicles locked in awe.
The joy and surprise of the principal on seeing the first and only parent finally arriving 10 minutes after the usual closing time was heartwarming. A fuzzy feeling of unity bonded us. A feeling of overcoming a common enemy, the polar vortex. “I am proud of you.” His weary eyes declared in gratitude. Parents were trickling in to pick up their kids. Not many of them. Bus riders showed off as they rolled their eyes to car-riders abandoned in the school at the mercy of the weather and staff. They secretly smiled in revenge of all those “ poor you, I’m getting in my mom’s car” looks they got everyday. Their excitement of traveling the un-passable snow covered roads burned wishful flames in their hearts. Alas, flames that never melted the ice. The bus looked like a popcorn machine in one of those animation movies, bouncing in place with the energy of it’s contents. They knew this ride would be different but they never guessed how. Even the steam covered windows of the school bus couldn't hide their vim.
My son and I rode, well, were parked in the road next to the school bus for a very long one and a half hour that delivered us 500 yards further. We had the choice; to start an adventure and leave 5.5 miles of footsteps on the snow tracing us home or sit in our torture chamber of uncertainty and hope for Moses to open this locked chain of vehicles miraculously. None of us being good prisoners of idleness, the latter didn’t seem like an option. Farewell car, farewell school bus carrying jumping beans, greetings jammed roads of Roswell, Georgia. Lead us!
Snowflakes falling still, steady and fast.
Resilience has always been my best friend. It granted me the power of quick decision making where fight, flight or freeze would have been the common response. My friend really came in handy on this very unique day. I knew setting off on an unknown journey -where getting cold and wet was mandatory- with a full bladder was not a wise choice. The people in the office building hosting our abandoned car embraced us and cheered us on. They were blissfully ,and a bit concerned, watching the show outside. Wiser or more sensible ones had already set their hearts on spending the night in the office.
Speeding through ice covered roads and taking over every single vehicle for about a mile was quite encouraging and rather exciting. Our feet danced joyously as the envious tires slid uncontrollably on ice. There was a sense of power and independence moving us forward.
They say there’s a first time for everything. This snowy day marked many of them for my son: first hitchhiking, first 5.5 mile walk home from school , first feeling of walking in wet shoes not for fun but to survive, first real helplessness in an uneven battle with nature. Perhaps the closest he had ever got to discomfort and insecurity. But the truth was being as resilient and fun natured as we are, the walk turned into a real adventure. Joyful. Playful. Meaningful. And a great lesson in compassion and simple acts of kindness for sure.
Snowflakes falling still, steady and fast.
“ Corporate office has ordered all the stores to close. I can’t offer you any specialty drinks but we have free coffee and free hot coco.” The Starbucks manager declared shyly from the crack in the door.
“ Gee! Of course! You are amazing!” I really thought he was!
We were led inside, offered hot coco and coffee. As cold and wet as we were the drinks felt like the streams of honey flowing in heaven promised to believers in Quran. The shop was surprisingly crowded. People were simply checked out for the day or like us, they were taking a break before continuing their frozen journey home. The atmosphere was friendly and warm. As if steams of kindness and camaraderie rising from each cup of free hot drink silently bonded all the stranded crowd in that not-so-spacious shop. How one choice, one decision, one random act of kindness, one simple straying from the rules, one gentle push of musts and shoulds affected so many hearts in a way it will be forever remembered.
“ You are truly appreciated.” We warmly expressed as we were leaving the store hoping to arrive home before dark. “ What you did, and how you comforted us will be forever a very sweet memory. Thank you!”
Home, before dark. Before the school bus even reached the main road.
Snowflakes that questioned everyone… What are your priorities? How developed is your power of decision making? How playful are you? How seriously do you take hardships? What are you taking for granted? How well planned are you? Whats the role of kindness and compassion in your life? Is it worth it?!…..still falling, steady and fast.
We were no exception. The whole five days we got stuck in the house were challenged with a lot of self observation. We never learned the name of the driver who good-naturedly transported us about a mile. We never asked for the numbers of the couple who miraculously appeared on our way and led us through a shortcut in a greenway. We didn't find out if our big-hearted coffee-man ever got home before dark. We hoped the firemen who offered us a roof for a few minutes got home safe. We didn't stop and whine, not even once! But we did reclaim our faith in love and compassion. We waved at the people we didn't know wishing a smile would bring them a little warmth. We did experience a bond that only develops when you go through hardship together. We did send gratitude for the blessings we so often take for granted. We became even more resilient.
Times of hardship, trauma, misfortunes and financial turmoils are all undoubtedly an inseparable part of life. Whether it’s a flat tire or losing our jobs, whether it’s a divorce or not getting our favorite seat in the theatre. What shapes us, our lives, our relationships, our present experience and our future is the response we give to every situation, to every action. Resilience, mindfulness and compassion can always turn the page in our favor. It’s worth to stop and reconsider: “How did I do the last time I had an opportunity to practice?”
Snowflakes keep falling steady, fast, resilient….