Commas from the Universe (aka: Forced Pauses)

Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.

The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.

I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.

But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.

Pause.

Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?

Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.

A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.

But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.

Rock tower

I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.

I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.

I Meant to Do That! (aka: Handling Klutziness With Grace)

One minute, I was a respectable, civilized human being, quietly scanning my groceries in the self-service lane. Then, I picked up a jar of dill pickles, and…

CRASH!

The jar slipped from my fingers, hit the edge of the shopping cart, and tumbled to the floor. Glass shattered. The air filled with a vinegary odor as pale green pickle juice puddled at my feet.

Oopsie. Butterfingers.

A hot blush of shame spread across my face as other supermarket patrons stared and store clerks went running for cleanup supplies. So embarrassing!

“Don’t worry about it.” A clerk tried to reassure me. “Happens to all of us.” I smiled, but my urge to do a humiliated Snoopy crawl out of the store didn’t fade. I also couldn’t help but notice that the clerk scanned the replacement jar of pickles for me, rather than risk a repeat offense.

To be fair, I’m not normally a klutz. But I don’t normally have mallet finger — a common ligament injury which means that the middle finger of my right hand is entombed in a clunky splint for 6-8 weeks. Which makes everything harder to do. I can’t sign my name. I manage a fork and spoon about as well as a toddler. I drop everything. Instant klutz. And plenty of embarrassment.

The clerk was right, though. Embarrassing things happen to all of us. Like discovering that you’ve left the house wearing two mismatched shoes. Like accidentally passing gas in the middle of yoga class. Like realizing that you made a ridiculous typo on a Tweet or Facebook post a day ago. Eep!

Knowing that billions of other people also make silly mistakes doesn’t always help when you’re in the middle of an embarrassing incident. What does help, however, is reminding yourself that the people around you aren’t judging you as hard as you are judging yourself if that moment. Most people don’t notice or even care that your ponytail looks less than perfect, or your lipstick has smudged a little, or that your dancing resembles Elaine’s less-than-graceful moves on Seinfeld. Who cares? Dance anyway. Let your smile be more noticeable than your lipstick. Own the moment, good or bad. Handle your klutziness with grace. When the crowd is staring and your cheeks are flushing bright red, take a sweeping bow, then repeat the wise words of PeeWee Herman. “I meant to do that.”