“A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don’t want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard…”
-Paul Simon, You Can Call Me Al
It is easy to get lost.
Easy to get lost on travel; in the fawning nonsense slathered on thick by service providers and the people who gather information. It is easy to lose yourself.
It is easy to become no more than the sum of your degrees and titles and cocktail party stories. Your very existence is reduced to anecdotal evidence of a life. And you begin to wonder, do you want to be more?
Who am I?
The lawyers and bankers and brokers all remark on the university degrees, and the letters before and after your name, and they whisper about the long blonde hair and your appetite for adventure. They parrot it back, wrapped in compliments and conveniences and covered in chocolate.
But at the heart of it — at the center of that strange little truffle — who are you? What is that? Do they know, or care, or do you even want them to know? Does it matter?
Are you caramel? Peanuts? Some strange nougat tasted then spat quickly back into a napkin?
I am soft-centered, that’s for certain. But I live in fear of being spat out. In more concrete terms, I am afraid of life going on without me. I am, like any human, concerned that if people knew what was really inside, they’d pick a different candy.
To that end, on Thursday morning in Hong Kong, I stood in the foyer of an event space on a high-up floor of a skyscraper and asked the assistant at the front desk Excuse me, what is the wifi password?
The desk attendant looked at me quizzically, demurred, then at my insistence, gave it up. She didn’t know that it was Winesday back in New York. She didn’t know that the Women of Winesday had made plans for a girls’ night on the town to surprise me a few weeks ago, and I’d had to reply to their message with Sorry, girls, I am leaving on Thursday night for Amsterdam. She didn’t know that life in New York was continuing even while I was out on the road.
She had just been told not to give out the password. But I can be persistent.
A secret handshake, and a few taps on my iPhone later, I had wireless internet, and a few more taps, and Strand and Miss Mal appeared on my screen.
Eeeek, it’s working!!! Miss Mal squealed.
It was hard for me not to squeal back. I had to pretend to be a grown-up. It was, after all, mid-morning for me and I was standing in the middle of an event, surrounded by other putative grown-ups. There was no privacy; one guy stared; I smiled and waved him on.
Kids? he mouthed, and pointed at the phone, like he could totally relate.
I nodded. It was only sort-of a lie.
Miss Mal and Strand crowded the iPhone lens, showing me the flowers Strand had brought over for Winesday. An excessively popular patient of hers had donated them to the Winesday cause. JM popped into view as well, waving hello.
We spoke face to face, from opposite sides of the world, for a few more moments then disconnected. Their night was ending, and my day was at full tilt. This transaction had been carried out in the middle of an important event, with twelve hours and thousands of miles between us. And just moments before All That, I’d been tweeting back and forth with eee, who was at that moment on a plane, travelling between New York and Los Angeles.
Welcome to the Future; don’t get left behind.
Who am I?
I am a woman who sometimes confuses her priorities, and puts items in a funny order on her to-do list, but who rarely forgets her own soft-centeredness. God forbid I ever stop trying to get to the middle of all of these glorious moments! Heaven help me if I forget to savour this time; this one chance I have to get things right — and then all of the second chances that follow!
Who am I?
Later that night, in my hotel room, I dialed my father up on my iPhone and set up a FaceTime call. We chatted about his days in Hong Kong; I flipped the screen to point the camera out over the Harbour.
Your mother and I once took high tea at a lovely hotel, he said, and there was this beautiful view, not unlike yours. But the windows looked out over a building with a bunch of circular windows and the waiter called it The House of 1,000 Assholes. He laughed. That’s exactly the sort of thing my father would find funny.
I scanned the late night landscape. It was obvious that he’d taken tea in my same hotel, because I was looking at the exactly that building.
Is that it? I asked him, turning our FaceTime conversation around. He laughed, and said it was. And we were both delighted, because we’d shared a moment from his Hong Kong and mine.
We hung up, and I got ready for my next call — this one work-related.
It is easy to lose yourself — especially with what I do and how I live my life. But I am a soft-centered girl, and I’ve got to guard it as best I can. And this life is delicious, and scary, and a little but unknowable — and meant to be protected and savoured.