Life lessons learned riding Septa

It was a long ride home last week.

I am at the very end of my current employment, and the train ride from our home into Center City is brutally long.  It’s long when the train is an express, usually clocking in around an hour and ten minutes.  But when it’s a local, it’s closer to an hour and forty minutes.  And that’s just the time I spend on the train.  Not waiting for it, not walking or driving to and from.  Just me, sitting in a pleather seat, watching South Eastern Pennsylvania slip by, day after day.

I began thinking, as I watched all the other passengers riding with me on the Paoli/Thorndale line, about all the lessons I’ve learned.  About myself, but also about life.  While commuting on Regional Rail for the past year and a half.

First, timeliness is everything.

Y’know that saying, early is on time, on time is late, and late is fired?  It applies to Septa.  And it should apply to all aspects of life.  I used to be habitually late.  I mean, you could set clocks knowing that I would be fifteen minutes late … at the very least.  But I learned really fast: that didn’t fly with Septa.

Think about it this way.  If your train is at 6.50am (which mine is) and you arrive at 6.50am, the train is gliding away from the station.  You’re late.  I mean, technically, you’re on time.  But you’re actually late.  If you get there after 6.50a you are just plain out of luck.  In order to be on the train, making your way laboriously into the city, you have to be early for your 6.50a train.  It’s not negotiable.

Now, Septa can be late.  And without fail, they are.

But YOU can’t be late.  And knowing that, living your life by that, helps give structure, and teaches you to appreciate timeliness.  In all aspects.

On that subject, when I made the adjustment from driving to commuting via train, I began to prioritize my life.  When you drive, time is loose.  Maybe you stop for a coffee en route.  Maybe you sleep in one morning.  Maybe you leave the office at 5pm.  Maybe you don’t.  You have a lot more freedom, but with that freedom (let’s say it together now) comes responsibility.

When I started to have a set time for work, I began to be more efficient with my tasks, prioritizing things that needed to be completed in the morning, things that could wait until the afternoon, and projects that could be spread across a few days.  I began to know exactly what needed to be done when, and how to do all of the things I needed to do within the time allotted.

I began getting home at a reasonable time every night.  Eating dinner with my husband.  Taking my dog for a walk.  Knowing that I did the best work I could during the hours of the day that had been ear-marked for work.  And that my evenings were my own.  (Sort of.  I work in the restaurant industry, so really, no time is truly your own.  It’s all the restaurant’s time).

All because Septa only goes to Thorndale once an hour — even during peak hours.  If I missed a train, I had to wait an entire hour, and get home even later.  That stopped being okay in the first two months.  It was exhausting, and I had no quality of life.  At all.

Something else about Septa.

Everyone is equal.  There isn’t a first class.  There are no special seats.  We all shuffle in, grab a seat, and hope that our seat mate showered that morning.  When the train is overly packed, the conductor speaks to the car like everyone is an adult with a brain.  He tells us that he’s not coming through to check our tickets.  To please show him when getting off the train.  He thanks everyone for their cooperation.

Everyone.

Not just me, the thirty-something white woman.  But the Indian and Hispanic people, the black men and women.  The Asians and the Arabs.  The women wearing hijabs.  The mother with three children.  The man with the seeing eye dog.

All of us.  As equals.

Every person riding Septa has a story.  Mine is pretty basic.  I live in the countryside of Chester County, but I work in Center City.  I commute during peak hours.  Sometimes later, when I stay to have dinner with my girlfriends.  Sometimes earlier, when I have to be at Penn for medication.  There are other people like me.  But there are other stories, as well.  Students riding in for classes at Drexel, Penn or Temple.  Men and women traveling to see a relative or loved one.  Someone commuting to the airport.  Someone who just got divorced.  Someone who just lost someone.  Someone suffering through IVF.  Someone with cancer.

Septa is the great equalizer.

We all show up on time.  Or we miss our train.  We all share seats.  We all smile when someone sits down, or gets up.  There are some exceptions (Septa isn’t utopia, people) but there are common courtesies that are observed on Septa.  Every night, the conductor wishes me a pleasant evening.  When people are lost, or confused, he helps them.  He maintains order in the microcosm of Septa.

I bet I’ve sat next to many a Trump supporter on the train.

I shudder thinking about it.  But I also think about how we are all just people on Septa.  Just people making our way through life.  I’ve had so many people help me on Septa.  When I was new, and completely terrified, people pointed me in the right direction.  When I jumped on a train, people let me know where it was going.  When I haven’t been able to lift a bag, someone has helped me.

And even when trains are delayed, or schedules are modified, or trains are pulled off the tracks or strikes affect travel…  People band together on Septa.  People watch out for each other.  It’s sort of heart-warming.

Anyway.  I am eternally grateful to Septa for making the past year and a half bearable.  I am grateful that instead of gripping my steering wheel in utter frustration, I could lean my head back and close my eyes.  I am grateful for learning timeliness.  And the greatness of people.

Thank you, Septa Regional Rail Paoli/Thorndale line.

 

 

 

January goals

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about getting ‘back on track’ in January, starting cleanses, hitting the gym, starting the ‘good habits’ etc.  In general, January is our collective ‘reset’ month.

This was my first January not feeling compelled by any of it.  I started a lot of my consistent, good habits in March of 2016, and I came through the Christmas season without feeling overwhelming guilt or over-indulgence.  Somewhere along my bike-riding and food-tracking journey, I started to not only listen to my body, but respect it.  I know that when you say no to the cake or candy, or only eat the vegetables at a big holiday dinner, some people might interpret that as being ungrateful or rude.  But in the spirit of my last blog post, I have reached a weird, zen state of self-worth.  I prioritize taking care of myself.  And I’m okay with that.

I didn’t even feel resentful through December, or as though I was depriving myself.  I knew what my limits were, I knew what I needed to do to keep on an even keel.  Riding the bike happens on Christmas Day in the same way it happens on a Wednesday night after work — because you choose to do it.  Eating a balanced meal is the same.  Munching on processed foods or potato chips is certainly easier than cooking dinner (even if you feel much worse for it in the long run).   There are few things I like to do at the end of a long workday, and cooking and exercising certainly do not lead the list.  So the hubs and I have come up with some meal hacks (mostly Wegman’s prepared meals and sushi) to get through the nights when cooking is absolutely not on the radar.  We talk enthusiastically about meal planning, but we haven’t quite reached that point of utter organization.

Right now, we are in a quandary about what to do with our two spare rooms.  Currently, one is set up as my home office, and the other is a library of sorts — but we call it Lucy’s room.  We set up our guest room in the basement with the en suite bathroom and private entrance, so we don’t really need to make either of these rooms another bedroom.  (Our guest count is fairly low anyway.)  We have found that while we have lots of ideas of how to make them look great, the point is to make them both look great and be functional, and that is a true challenge.  Since I am leaving my  job in a  few weeks, I’m not sure what my need for a fully functional home office will be moving forward, but even saying that, the way my current office is set up drives me bananas.

Right now I’m in a strange, mental purgatory.  I know what I’ve left behind, but I don’t know exactly where I’m going yet.  So it makes it challenging to plan.  To make decisions about what we need/don’t need.  I sit here, and between tapping away at the keys, I stare at the wall, wondering what my future holds, wondering what 2017 will bring for John and I.  Last year was such a crazy year — amazing trips and time with family and friends.  Football games, and dinners at delicious restaurants.  Fire pits on our deck, and holiday parties.  Settling into our new normal.  I don’t think I could have guessed last January that in twelve months I would be leaving the job that helped us get to this place, a job I thought I’d do for years to come.  That J + I would be staring down his second major surgery in less than two years.  That chaos would be dominating every corner of our lives.

And in the face of all these changes, all these uncertainties, I have this bizarre calm at the center of my being.  I know that we will be okay.  I know that no matter what, we will pay our bills, and keep our house and our cars.  We will continue to be able to feed ourselves and Lucy.  We might not get back to Iceland this year, but we will go back.  We will be okay.

And that’s what I hold onto when it all feels like it’s too much.  I hold onto the knowledge that John and I have gotten through everything together.  When our bank accounts were overdrawn and the credit collectors were calling non-stop.  When we couldn’t afford to turn our heat on.  When we couldn’t afford gas and groceries in the same week.  We figured it out.  We got it done.  And we will continue to get it done.  And I will continue to ride my bike in the garage, and eat spiralized zucchini and sweet potatoes.  And we will be okay.

self worth

Sometimes it’s really hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea that I am 37 and a grown up.  Those times when my mother used to say “I still feel 17” boggled my young mind and now … make perfect sense.

When I was young, I had complete faith that all those people older than me, the ones who got up, and put their work day best clothes on, and slogged to the office and cooked dinner when they got home at night — they knew.  

I’m not sure what I thought they knew, but I knew they knew it.  They knew how to adult.  They had learned the secret, and they were busy getting on with being adults.  This secret that I was convinced existed, absolutely terrified me.  I was completely sure that I wouldn’t get it, and would forever be in a dark fog of ignorance.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out that there is no secret code.  There isn’t a secret answer that allows people to live successfully as grown-ups.

Highly disappointing and deflating.

I say that, and then my brain immediately contradicts itself.  There is a secret — if you want to call it that.  It’s called ‘self worth.”

I found myself giving the admin in my office some advice as I left yesterday.  I smiled at her, and said — “Nothing is really that hard.  Just take it one step at a time.  Look at everything as its own thing so as not to get overwhelmed.  You’ll be okay — once you do it, once you start, it will feel a lot less intimidating.” 

That’s the advice I’d give to a young me.  That nothing is as scary once you start.  Nothing is so difficult, so complicated, that you can’t get through it one step at a time.  Looking at things in groups make them seem insurmountable, but nothing is impossible.  If you believe in yourself, believe in your innate ability to work through things, puzzle things out, you will be okay.

Life has not been overly kind or forgiving for me.  I’ve fallen down a lot (with and without the help of Multiple Sclerosis).  But I’ve gotten back up, dusted myself off, straightened my ponytail (one of my new favorite sayings) and forged on ahead.  As I’ve done that, I’ve grown to really trust myself.  I know, even in the toughest moments, in the darkest, scariest times, that I can count on myself.  I’m tough, and even-keeled and smart.  I will get through it.

And slowly, I’ve built my self-worth.  And I believe in it.  I don’t think I’m perfect — FAR from it.  But I believe I am solid and capable.  I believe I deserve to be treated fairly and with generosity of spirit.  I believe in the choices I’ve made, the person I’ve chosen to become. Feeling that way makes me feel as though I can do anything if I just put my mind to it.  (Maybe I’ve been listening to Anne of Green Gables too much recently — I hear her voice in  my words).

Having this new appreciation for myself has made me realize that self-worth is the foundation, the secret.  Self worth allows you to go when you need to go, stay when you are willing to stay.  Self worth – I think –  is what defines successful adults.  So it took me 37 years to get here.  I’m okay with that.

 

bettis year

Last December, as I was celebrating my 36th birthday, my husband dubbed it my “Bettis Year Yet.”  I probably had some thoughts about being on the down side of 35 but he was having none of it.  He smiled at me.  He said “Babe, this time last year you were using a cane to walk.  We still lived in a one-bedroom rental.  This is going to be your Bettis Year yet.  I promise.”

He wasn’t wrong.  It was a Bettis year.  With incredible highs — Italy, Iceland, a return to Jackson Hole, my company growing exponentially, getting in much better shape and losing 15 lbs — but also devastating lows.  With the expansion of my company came the inevitable growing pains — the changing of an institution.  My favorite co-worker, the person I’d bled in the trenches with for years — left.  The infrastructure changed.  I felt lost, confused and unbelievably sad.  I gave my notice four days before my Carnell Lake birthday this year.

But with all that came really beautiful clarity.  And that is something I want to take with me into 2017, into my Carnell Lake year.

Here are some things I know about myself, deep down in the depths of my soul, in the marrow of my bones.

I see the world in black and white.  It doesn’t make things easier for me.  I think — often times — it makes it harder.  The world itself isn’t black and white.  It’s a myriad of gray.  I don’t exist like that.  It makes people resent me because I don’t fit in – it makes them uncomfortable.  It makes me the outsider.

I’ve always been an outsider.  Since birth, probably.  I wasn’t totally American, I am not British.  Because of that, I never fit in anywhere.  I was always a little off, a little different.  I used to fight it, trying so hard to squeeze my square peg into a round hole.  I spent so much time searching for a place to call my own.  I didn’t know that I had to make it myself.

I no longer care if people like me or hate me.  I don’t care if they think I am weird, or a stiff, or un-fun.  I am the only person whose opinion of me matters.  Whether my jeans look good, my shoes are in fashion, my values and morals make sense.  I have to look myself in the mirror and be okay with the decisions I’ve made, the words I’ve said, the direction I’ve chosen.  I have to be able to sleep at night.  I am okay being me.  And I like the real me, the Steelers-loving, Hamilton-listening, Gilmore Girls-watching me.  I like being manic about my skin care, and tracking my water in-take.  I like coming home and snuggling with my husband and dog. I am a-okay with my bed time of 8.30pm.  I like my life.

Life is a short journey.  I know we all feel as though we are rich with time.  But we aren’t.  My heart aches with the thought of leaving my job, leaving the restaurants that feel like my children, the employees, the culture, the love.  But at the end, I was sick with misery.  I was drowning in the blackest depression.  And even if I had no idea what my future held, I knew I had to go.  Because I’m on the clock.  My disease doesn’t care about anything or anyone.  And I might have it corralled for now – meds, and diet and exercise and sleep.  But M.S. can break anything, it has broken me before.  I am not willing to sacrifice myself on any alter but my own.

I hope that this year is filled with laughter and memories.  Sunshine and lazy mornings.  Long walks with my pup and my husband. Family. Chai tea lattes from Starbucks.

I hope I am able to learn things I don’t know, expand my horizons, meet people who challenge my brain.  Learn Spanish, or French, or how to play the damn piano.  I hope I read books and learn to understand the stock market and economics.  I hope I remember to always breath, and find myself on my bicycle.

I hope 2017 proves that maybe 36 was my Bettis year, but it wasn’t my Best.  My best is always the future, the surprises waiting around the corner.  The smell of freshly baked bread, or Stargazer lilies.  The way my husband feels when he holds me close to him.  The soft snuffle of Lucy sleeping on the couch.

Here’s to my Carnell Lake (#37) year and all that it holds.  Happy New Year.