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“If you have to wonder,” she said, “you might already know the answer.” She wasn’t talking to me, but maybe she was. I was sitting in the back of my SUV on a makeshift mattress I use for car camping and mountain running and napping by the beach. I was facing the ocean, tap tap tapping away at my computer. Trying to write something good. Trying to figure out my emotions. Trying to make something that made sense. Two women were sitting in yellow lawn chairs in front of me drinking lemonade and talking. Their voices were loud and unabashed. There was drama with an ex-husband and his new wife; there were gushes and complaints about the men each of them was dating; the problems they were having; the heartache and audacity and chemical rushes that go hand-in-hand with falling in and out of love.
“If you have to wonder, you might already know the answer.”
As I listened to the women chat, I watched people walk by on the sidewalk that overlooked the ocean. An elderly couple with an matching elderly French bulldog. Two grown men in long basketball shorts. A mother and her grown daughter. A woman wearing Chacos walking a large brown lab. A young couple holding hands. Another elderly couple; the man with a walker, the woman holding an enormous brown paper bag. I wondered what was in it. I wondered where all these people were going, if they were happy, where they were from, who they loved or if they did or how. I wondered if any of them were listening to the water, how the waves sounded both gentle and angry. I wondered if any of them felt small looking at the ocean, or if they were used to its quiet grandeur. I wondered if any of them fantasized about jumping in and letting the water carry them wherever it might take them. Most of all, I wondered if any of them noticed me noticing them.
I didn’t feel inspired to write that day. I didn’t feel much of anything. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I wanted to be around people, which is why I was sitting in the back of my car at the beach, trying to write something halfway good.
There is no point to this really, except to say that this strange woman was right. If you have to wonder, you might know the answer. I thought about all the times I’ve made big decisions—right or wrong. When I said “yes” to the guy who asked me to marry him, and I wondered if I could trust him, if he was still cheating, if my anxieties were real or imagined. When I agreed to move to California with him, and wondered if that was the right decision; if the move would hurt or help us; if I would be happy in a new place with the darkness of my old life still lingering. I thought about the men I’ve dated since, who were lovely in their own right, but mostly avoidant so I always had to wonder how they felt or what they were thinking or what we were doing. I thought about the way each of those flames died slowly and coldly, how I hadn’t trusted my intuition enough, and how I’d promised myself, more than once, to lean further into my gut instinct.
I also thought about all the times I didn’t have to wonder. The friends who never wavered in their love and support. The men who spoke freely and shared generously and helped me feel safe. The way I’ve always known what to do—which job to take, where to move, how and when to nourish myself—if only I listened.
When I was looking for a new job, I was interviewed by an organization that seemed way too eager to hire me. The woman who interviewed me spoke too much, too fast, and non-linearly. I was offered a job but turned it down. My gut was right, and my decision was right because I listened. Only a few weeks before that, I said yes to a date with a guy I wasn’t excited about, regretted it, canceled it, and felt unbearably happy with myself. A few weeks later, I said yes to a trip to Moab. Yes, to an early morning mountain run. Yes, to spending time with friends I hadn’t seen in months. Yes, to more experiences and less superficiality. Yes, to more good things and no to anyone or anything that seemed to be an exquisite waste of time. I’ve always known what I need, and that thought brought me the peace I didn’t know I was looking for.
I was still by the ocean when the sun disappeared behind the horizon. My heart felt heavy, but the air was sweet. I came to the ocean looking for something like an answer, or maybe I was looking for direction. Life is an exceptionally humbling experience, if you’re paying attention. But it’s also lovely beyond measure. Interesting beyond words. Exhilarating, if you’re not too busy being thrust into the darkness of it all. Fascinating, if you’re not bogged down with worry. Loving, if you’re not too busy being burdened by hate. Soft, if you’re strong enough to not let it harden you indefinitely.
P.S. Read Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, find a new read on Jordan Peterson's book list, or find a new podcast to listen to here.