I saw the thin black ties of the apron first. They were draped rather languidly along the edge of the road. The apron itself was nearly hidden in a grassy dip in the ground off to the side, leading into the mouth of a drain pipe. The all-black color of the apron helped to disguise it. Even the dog had not noticed it as we walked the small neighborhood street.
With a closer look, the apron was easily recognized as a restaurant-style server’s apron – smallish, oblong, with pockets sewn all across its lap for holding pens and order slips, notes about specials, and tips paid in cash. Picking it up, I discovered the apron pockets were still filled with pens – at least a dozen of them.
And then, just a few steps farther on, there lay a black plastic restaurant check folder. Within the folder was a nearly full pad of order forms; two of which still contained orders.
Both the apron and the check folder seemed new, barely used, stiff and unworn. The handwriting appeared young. Yet it seemed there was some experience there, too, with the orders taken down in a sort of practiced, specialized, food-service shorthand.
And so I carried the items home with me, with care and consideration. Because it seemed that this was a glimpse into a life. A life that had been cast off at the side of the road – like an outgrown shell of a sea creature or bird hatchling, the cocoon of some young insect or butterfly, the hull of a seedling.
I’m sorry that the value of the items had not been respected and returned. But perhaps the impulse had been too strong, the symbolism too compelling. I suspect most of us have performed such a ritual in our own lives, as we have thrown off a self-image, cast away old ideas, changed directions, broken out, walked away, moved on. I hope we have all had such courage and curiosity to do so.
And, I suppose, it seems a youthful thing to do. Perhaps because it claims a certain energy to say: I choose to go this other way now – to travel the road with the unknown curves and bends ahead. The road with the mysterious outcome. The road where there will be strangers and stillness, and shadows as well as sunshine.
But regardless of our actual age in time and life, we all do seem to embrace new beginnings – if not always the idea of change for change sake. Every New Year’s resolution is a witness to our penchant for it, our intentionality of reinventing something about ourselves, of repurposing our lives, or reinterpreting our experience of life. I believe it is carefully imbedded in our humanity – our souls and psyche – to be driven to explore new places and possibilities.
I suspect many of us may even be haunted by what writer Cheryl Strayed calls “the ghost ship that didn’t carry us.” That shadowy idea of another life that was not ours because we did not choose it. I would hope we would not be stalked by it, but would be able to ponder it at those particular times in the night or walking in the woods when such thoughts are nearby and good company.
And I hope that in some aspects of our lives we are all misfits and rebels. The ones who stand up for others and sing out loud. The makers of paths and peace. Those who have messy hair and leave muddy footprints. The ones who think about things. The ones who are kind beyond reason. The ones who make choices according to their hearts.
Nelson Mandela gave us this encouraging thought: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” I also find it encouraging to consider our choices as not being all in the past – leading us to where we are in this moment. But that there are an abundance of choices yet to be made – leading us to futures of new moments yet to be celebrated.
For the present, I have chosen to keep the black apron and check folder sitting at the side of my desk. I consider them from time to time – as the life found at the side of a road. And I hope they were cast aside, not out of fear or frustration or a tragic heart, but with anticipation. That it was a choice made out of hope and expectations for a life yet to be. A life that will be filled with brilliant experiences and ever new choices all along the way.
May it be so for us all.