Smoke Shoveling

Last year during this time while training for the marathon, I got in the habit of stopping into Starbucks after my long runs on Saturdays.  This is a tradition that I continue to this day, I still do an outdoor run pretty much every Saturday unless the weather is just beyond ridiculous, which, here in Chicago there's always a pretty good chance that it will be.  The particular Starbucks I go to is not much bigger than a walk-in closet, it's very cramped and doesn't even have a restroom.  There are about 3 tables inside...which I've never even entertained the THOUGHT of sitting at one. I am pretty sure in order to get a table there you need to camp outside on the sidewalk overnight.  This past Saturday I stopped in after my run and as usual, it was packed, the line doubled back on itself in the very narrow space between the glassed off wall of pastries and the 3 tables lined up against the windows.  As I was waiting in line with my headphones in listening to... well, I'll leave that part out because it's probably embarrassing, and it doesn't really matter, story still applies... I felt someone frantically tapping my back and while I was trying to turn off my music while the tapping continued all I could hear was, "elbow, head, elbow, elbow, my head!"  I was horrified!  All of a sudden I found myself the center of attention in the middle of the shoebox  Starbucks that until 30 seconds ago I had always felt comfortable in.  After I had gotten the music turned off, or down or pulled my headphones out... I realized she was saying something about my elbow, hitting her, in her head.  I've always thought that I had pretty good proprioception... being able to know where my body is in time and space.  So my second or third thought quickly played out like an opening scene of "House"... I was sure I must have been having some sort of uncontrolled spasm that was making my arm involuntarily jerk around and that on top of that I was having a side of stroke, since I apparently had no awareness of what was happening.  As I began to apologize profusely for hitting her in the head with my elbow and shattering her Starbucks experience into a million little pieces, she told me that, "No, you didn't hit me in the head with your elbow, I just wanted to let you know that from where you were standing that you very easily could have!"  

EXCUSE ME?!? I thought to myself... I COULD have?  I COULD have set the place on fire or peed down my leg too (remember there is no restroom in this Starbucks and I DID just run 6 miles) but I didn't! There are a LOT of things I COULD have done that didn't happen and most likely wouldn't.  Now, she has everyone in here thinking that I carelessly hit her upside the head while standing in line listening to Beyonce (or not Beyonce... whatever...story still applies).  As much as I wanted to just sink into a hole or quietly exit out the only door there was,  my overwhelming desire for a giant dark roast kept me there.

As I was walking away with my giant cup of coffee and starting thinking about the events that had just transpired I found myself asking, what is the lesson in this.  What am I supposed to learn.  I kept coming back to the fact that she had just created so much drama and turmoil for herself, for me and for everyone around us by having a disproportionate reaction to something that hadn't even happened.  She overreacted to nothing more than a worry, a fleeting thought.  And although she hadn't actually manifested the event happening by worrying about it, she DID manage to manifest the chaos as IF it HAD.  

I'm fond of saying that, "worrying is like shoveling smoke," it's ultimately futile and gets you nowhere but tired and stressed out.  But for as mush as I SAY that, I know that I'm still very capable of worrying about things and taking a non-event to it's most disastrous conclusion in about 3.5 seconds.  Just one of my strengths!  However, this was such a tangible, concrete example of what worrying can do and how it not only effects the person worrying, but the ripple effect it can have on other people... it was a wakeup call.  

How much time and energy do we spend worrying about things that are completely out of our control and will most likely never happen?  My best estimate is... too much. Next time you find yourself starting the downward spiral of worry, stop... take a deep breath, count to 10 and put some distance between you and those thoughts that start rushing at you at breakneck speed.  Don't start tapping strangers and yelling about their elbows and your head.

Posted on July 28, 2014 .