Some virtues are beyond me. Patience, for instance, ever the teacher, lover and nemesis, eludes me today. As I sit in the hard plastic chair in the DMV, watching the screen to confirm the number announced courteously by the subtly enthusiastic electronic female voice, “Now serving number G095 at Window 13”, I sigh in exasperation. My number is G0172. It’s the second time in a month and a half that I have lost my driver’s license, and apparently the punishment is laid before me.
I want to pluck my eyeballs right out of my head at the thought of this wait in the stupefyingly catatonic government issue slate blues and grays of this Kafka-esque muffled, stifling prison. Too many dull civil servants shuffling paper among chair slumpers and leg shifters, all emitting muted boredom, disgust and defeat. No one appears to be content–merely a large aggregation of bodies connected only by will to the call of the numbers.
My daily practice of late has been precisely about this: finding contentment wherever I am. But not just the ordinary contentment of gratitude for a life lived in relative comfort and safety. For example, this may not be the best experience a late Friday afternoon has to offer, but at least I am not being held hostage in a bank. I will eventually leave this drone of hushed activity, having completed the exercise in obedient compliance with temporary license in hand.
And it is not mere at-oneness, presence within the space I am led to by attention to breath. That place is familiar to me as I have beckoned that presence to practice yoga on particularly distractible days, to preserve my sanity in extreme adversity, situations beyond my control such as waiting in a hospital room for test results, and to create–writing within the clasp of close observational sensation and thought.
No, the kind of contentment found in voluntary partial confinement among these resigned soldiers of complicity is not mere surrender; it is much more focused, pinpoint. It is the kind of contentment that comes in very small packages, minute actually, perhaps down to the cellular level. This cellular ease is squeezed out of a stillness and silence within that can hear the seduction of the computerized voice tapping into specific sensors in my brain, sliding across synapses that fire the corresponding response: chill. I hear the voice, calm, soothing, and yet infused with the transparency of its purpose. It’s experiencing and knowing all at once, an ultra alert moment of bathing light.
These moments of hyper awareness, like visualizing sound vibrations traveling across cilia in my ear canal to produce tones, reactions and information, store savory bits of future antidote to the haze of an overslept day just like today. They entertain and calm me when bored or anxious.
There are seemingly insignificant moments I can remember as mere hair’s breath of time and movement recorded so finely to capillary’s considered caress. I close my eyes in the echo of “Now serving…G108…” and summon one such scene of long ago to the black screen of my eyelids and I am there:
Walking out the door in a hurry, late for work, I don’t even notice as I rush past him. Evan near misses but manages to clasp my elbow on the fly. “Hey,” he says huskily. He has just awakened and struggles slightly with sleep-shorn disarray, a waver in his stance. Stopped, the momentum of my intention and determined pace is still rushing on ahead of me as my body is stilled before his eyes. “Hey,” he says again still clasping my elbow, my attention now filling my eyes that have been locked into his by the soft insistence of his gaze. He raises his free hand to my face and rests his four fingers, thumb-less, palm down, under my chin lightly. I feel the warmth of his morning hand and his embracing time. “Have a fine day.” The sound of his touch lingers. My racing pulse of wheeling stepped-to thought slowed in the honeyed silk of stilled breath and moment, somehow I sense I will.
I open my eyes, once again to the dimmed fluorescent daylight of the room. The 90s throw-back television screen flicks to G112 as I recover the speed of my breath, regulate it to the pace of the room’s still life painting of humans in suspended animation. Leaving behind the image on a slo-mo memory reel, I feel the filmy residue coating my mood–a clear outlook reset. The furrows in my brow have smoothed out, not merely caved into my face. The tension lines around my mouth are slightly faded.
Returning to the room, I imagine the civil space of 10 inches between my loudly sighing, glum neighbor and me, hitched to the same row of five chairs connected respectably, tolerably separated to allow both detached misery and connected commiseration in accordance with the building’s function. I will myself to blanket that distance with warmth like the heat of Evan’s hand emanating an atomic wave of empathic static connection.
Can he feel it? I have tuned out all voices, human or electronic, and squinch my sight with open eyes, twisting the last drop of intention from the tube of my will to touch him with an invisible hand. I turn to look at him, retreating from my straight-ahead-vision of the shaved head and neck of the body in front of me, but I only catch his departing blurred frame. His number, G118, is up.
Fortunate for him. Fifty-four more numbers to go. Twenty-five numbers in 90 minutes. Lots of time to practice patience and play at staking the heart of the energy vampire in this room. Luckily, I have a full flash drive of micro memory moments to fuel my efforts. Heck, I have time enough to remember where I lost my driver’s license in the first place.