He carried a floral gift bag bigger than any purse I owned into my kitchen. My birthday present. I wore a dress the colors of the ocean, my hair curled, my makeup done for our night at the philharmonic. I couldn’t wait for the night to start, but lingering excitement came over me as I suspected what might just be in that floral bag.
The tissue paper susurrated as I swept it aside and withdrew a wrapping paper-covered box. It was a carrying case, and inside was my 1948 Remington Rand typewriter. The tiny metal arms stamped with letters and numbers fanned around the green-gray shell and the black ribbon that transfers the ink to the creamy linen pages. The silver lever that moved the type to the next line gleamed. A tiny part of me suspected, but I didn’t let myself believe, that this glittering slice of magic was in that bag. It was the most romantic gift I’ve ever received.
The soft hum of conversation surrounds me. I sit at a small rectangular table by the wall of my my favorite local coffee shop, a friendly trio – my mug of cherry mocha, composition notebook journal, and small potted plant – keeping me company. This is a comfortable place, one without even a hint of pretense. Lovingly-wrapped chocolates line the shelves along the walls, waiting to be purchased as gifts, and small pieces of artwork from a local photographer hang in the gaps. It is early morning, and the old-timers are meeting behind me, bonding over the small town newspaper, or maybe a game of chess, and discussing current events. The regulars, those who are in the rushed transition between home and work, bustle in and out, grabbing their cuppa something and offering a quick hello to friend and stranger alike. After sharing a few greetings of my own, I root around in my purse for my bright yellow fountain pen and settle in for a quiet hour.
It’s like this nearly every morning. This small place, frequented by so many in my town, is a hodgepodge of scattered, mismatched wooden chairs and tables, all with unique personality, and each holding moment after moment of shared life. I am hard-pressed to find the shop empty, unless I am waiting by the door when it is unlocked, and surprisingly, this comfortable-in-her-skin introvert likes it that way. I am known here. And not just by the owners and the regular guests, but also by the space.
The word “trailblazer” is often associated with the names of important people that have made big changes for the world in the fields of science or technology, and yes, they are absolutely incredible. However, people who change the game don’t always walk in the landscape of their own shadow. I believe some of the greatest influencers are the ones that chose to live in freedom by pursuing the life they wanted to live. And I consider my mother to be a trailblazer in a league of her own.
My mother enrolled in Michigan Tech in 1971 as an undeclared engineering major. The second woman in her family to go to college, she was one of the 500 women on a campus of 6,000, fierce to make known that she wasn’t at the college to find a mate. She was there because she didn’t see her position as a woman as hindrance to a career, but as a human being pursuing the thing she loved.
I am never alone.
On the rare, and somewhat monumental, occasions that I am, I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Preprogrammed like a channel of reruns, I tend to replay the elements of my typical day, not easily slipping into the opportunity of “me” time with the simple grace I’d like to be capable of.
There are moments where I wish life was wrapped up and under my control, but I also want openness and ease. I crave certainty, but I’m most alive when life unfolds in messy and beautiful ways.
Like many people, I hope for a quick fix — a magic pill that lets me leap over difficult circumstances. This is the craving of my small mind. When I listen to the big mind of my heart, I find wisdom: I only grow if I do the hard, honest work, knowing I’ll begin again and again.