Pieces of Paper

Pieces of Paper

It is human nature, or perhaps Jen nature, to think that we are fully in charge of our lives. We plan, we coordinate, we study, we work, we network…all because we know exactly where we are headed and precisely how we are going to get there. And yet, if you really stop to look at the path of our own lives, how often does it really go as planned? Not so often, would be my guess.

I recently had the opportunity to make a new friend, a friendship that as it turns out may be the shortest I have ever experienced. I was out of town on business and, because of my own social inadequacies, sat at the bar for dinner as opposed to getting a table for myself. Because really, let’s be honest, if you sit at the bar alone you look like much less of a loser than if you sit at a table alone. Really. Everyone knows that. Duh.

Anyway, the gentleman next to me at the bar, clearly embracing this same “cooler at the bar” mentality, struck up a conversation with me. Over the course of the evening we played a 3 hour verbal game of “I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours.” We cautiously, then bravely, then joyfully swapped stories of jobs, families, moms, irritations, passions, falling in love, falling out of love, hopes, dreams and the beauty of a clean slate pursuit. Okay, so maybe it sounds like the beginning of a tawdry novel inclusive of a steamy love affair, or perhaps more astutely as my friend Kim would say “a great way to end up in a Hefty bag on the side of the road.” But I assure you, it was innocent, and wholesome, and heartwarming, and a great reminder of the connectedness we can have as human beings if we are just willing, even if only for a moment, to step outside of our comfort zone.

And in talking to this guy–a guy I never knew before and may never know again–I learned something. From him, I learned that a little piece of paper can change your life. Now, I suppose we all can come up with pieces of paper that changed our lives. Divorce papers, sitting on my car seat one dismal April morning six years ago, certainly come to mind. But really, our lives are so inundated with information and papers and posters and flyers and post-it notes and memos and reports, who really pays attention to every piece of paper that crosses their path? But this guy did, and it has changed the the trajectory of his life forever.

As a teacher, my new-found friend noticed that someone had posted a flyer on a door in his school that simply read, “Teach in China.” And you know what? He did. For three summers he went to China to teach for the summer, and he said that even though he had been to 45 countries previously, the moment he stepped off the plane in China he felt like he fit in–he knew that he was home. So, after some soul-searching and consulting and worrying and planning and hoping and selling his stuff and breaking the news to his grown children, he decided to spend the rest of his life teaching in China. Boom. Just like that. Picking up, moving on, starting over, building anew. A new chapter, a new adventure, a complete revision of his life story….all because of a flyer that most everyone else would have ignored or maybe used to swat a fly.

I spent the evening enchanted by his courage and wondering if I could ever do the same. Probably not, I surmised, and then when he told me that in previous trips he had eaten things like chicken intestines (“probably not cleaned” mind you) and duck heads, I was certain the answer was no. Nevertheless, I was reminded of the importance of having an openness and an awareness of everything in our lives. A piece of paper–a meaningless, mindlessly placed, graphically lacking, stupid flyer, on white paper and probably typed in Comic Sans or some equally offensive font–can change your life forever. If you let it, that is. Will you?


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