What if you give an ordinary day the opportunity to be more? What if you believed that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary was only a shift in perspective? And you have the power to make that shift? If you are having a “fine” day, nothing scintillating on the schedule, don’t write it off just yet. We believe that extraordinary enters wrapped in boas, followed by violinists. You will continue to miss the faint knocking if you don’t adjust your thinking. My most extraordinary days always catch me off guard.
This story is an example of everyday extraordinary that I almost missed.
The day started at 2 am with my daughter waking me up to tell me that her bedroom was too cold. A 25-degree night in January, mine was freezing as well. My light wouldn’t turn on as I got up to investigate and after trying a few other outlets, I realized the heat and electricity was off all over the apartment. Too tired to deal, we all went back to bed. Hopefully, this would resolve itself by 6:30 am. It did not.
After a cold, dark breakfast, I walked the kids down the emergency light wrapped service stairs. At the bottom, our doorman told us that the entire building had no power. Con Ed had been on our street since midnight, and due to explosions, they still couldn’t get into the manhole. I saw a crew of Con Ed workers huddled near a smoking pit across the street from our canopy when I exited to walk my son to school.
After drop off, my thoughts turned to my son’s fish. He has two tanks containing nine tropical fish, and it hit me that the heater had been off all night. The big tank was too heavy to move, so I wrapped it in blankets. Our beloved Betta fish Jek lived alone in a bowl that was easily transportable, so I brought him over to the super at a neighboring building for the day. At least I saved a life.
My agitation ballooned as I headed home thinking about all the items on my to-do list that required electricity. One of the Con Ed workmen was talking on his cell phone near my canopy, so I lingered until he hung up.
“Hi, I live here- wondering what’s going on with the power? How long will it be out for?” I asked in my best trying to sound calm voice.
“I’ll have a better idea once the explosions stop. It’s not safe to go down yet. I just got here at 6. This is nothing compared to the job I was at last night- near Chelsea Piers- snow melting mixed with salt from the plows is causing explosions all over. I got home at midnight, and they called me at 5 am to come in and take over this job.” The rosy-cheeked Con Ed man responded. I did the math on his sleep the night before and wondered how he sounded so relaxed after getting less than five hours. Exploding hole aside, insufficient sleep is enough to nose dive my day. There was something unusual about this clear-eyed man.
“My name is Thayer, What’s your name?” I asked.
“My name is Tom, nice to meet you, Thayer. God, I feel bad for all of you without light and heat. What a hassle. Once I can get in there, I promise we’ll get it back up as soon as we can.” Tom smiled.
Our conversation was interrupted by a doctor with an office in my lobby;” Excuse me, what is going on here? What in the world am I supposed to tell my patients?” she asked Tom tensely.
Tom responded with genuine concern, “I’m so sorry about this, it must be hard for business. Once I get into that hole, I’ll be able to give you a better sense of timing. Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll call you as soon as I know?”
Disarmed by his compassion, the doctor gave Tom her number and walked away.
“Wow Tom, you’re a pro,” I said.
“Nah, she just wants to make a buck, it’s no big deal,” said Tom. “I got a great life; this is all gravy.”
The use of the word gravy clarified the source of Tom’s unique energy.
“Tom, are you a friend of Bill’s?” That’s what sober people say to feel out other sober people instead of flat-out asking them. Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.
My question was met with another enormous smile, “Why yes I am. How long have you been in the program?” Tom asked.
“I celebrated 14 years two weeks ago.” I smiled back.
Standing on the frozen sidewalk, smiling at each other, my frustration was replaced by love. Love for Tom, love for sobriety and gratitude for all human beings who were doing their best that day.
“Can I give you a hug Thayer?” Tom asked. Usually, this corny request would make me cringe, but that judgment didn’t even cross my mind. I nodded, and Tom grabbed me in a bear hug, picking me up off my feet. I wish I had a photo of that moment, the smoking pit behind us and all Tom’s co-workers looking over.
We all go through up cycles and down cycles; periods of high energy, productivity and positivity followed by fatigue, doubt, and procrastination. We are not robots. I feel disappointed when I crash out of an up cycle, wonder what I did wrong, and how I can extend it next time. Trying to force my way back into the state with a “fake it till you make it mentality” is a start, but the pursuit of it as a goal takes on desperation, which denies me access every time. I am learning that the pathway to consistent re-entry is through my heart. Connecting with people who inhabit vulnerability and gratitude opens something inside me that I can’t activate alone.
Tom’s attitude not only shifted my day; it left an imprint on my soul.