A few years ago, my friend Brendan told me that he could always tell what was going on in my life at any time based on the state of my hair.
I sat on the edge of his bed while he sat on the edge of his desk chair, some friend from film class filling the doorframe and his then-fiancé, now-wife Andrea’s pixelated face watching over us all between glitches in their 93-minute ongoing Skype call.
Strange thing, relationships are.
Gone were the days of Taco Bell on his couch while binging on superhero movies, of chopping wood and lighting fires in the backyard using his mom’s old Avon fragrances. Now, we almost always sat in the presence of Andrea’s glowing face, our conversations a triad think-tank.
I stared at her wiggly expression, then back at Brendan, his socked feet dusting the tops of his fringed carpet as he spun in half circles between her face and mine. “You can not,” I replied, all too aware of the 18-inch wig of pin-up style mocha hair crouched atop my head, sweating underneath a blue SnapBack. The idea to purchase a wig, of all things, came to me a week prior while I lay on my mom’s couch watching STARZ and drinking boxed wine like Gatorade.
At the time, I was depressed and a borderline alcoholic with nothing better to do on a Saturday night other than get drunk and watch Twilight marathons. Kristen Stewart looks great in that wig, I mulled. I would look great in a wig. I would have stabbed myself in the leg before I owned up to that.
“My hair just needed a break from styling. I’m trying to grow it out.” “It probably fell out because of how much you dye it,” the guy in the doorway, who later introduced himself as Alex, said.
I shot a look at this unwelcome stranger who had no authority to be weighing in on the distressed state of my hair follicles and brushed a strand out of my eyes. “Yeah. Maybe.” Brendan made some noise that indicated he knew his point had been made.
Since the time I was fifteen, I’ve cut and dyed my hair at least 80 times. I used to think this was a harmless form of self-expression; what I’ve come to realise is that I did it to maintain some sense of control. Only people who paid attention to the life events corresponding to these changes caught on.
Then, I went on the World Race. And from September 2015 to July 2016, I got a brutal 11-month crash course in letting go of control. I’m embarrassed to say some of my controlling tendencies came to define moments of my Race. In addition, some were just downright weird.
At any given moment, I had two containers of peanut butter on my person. Why two? I don’t know. Daylight robbery? Thirty people spontaneously all needed a sandwich at the same time, and God forbid I came up short? Did I need to pack and carry 230 individual feminine hygiene products into gallon-sized ziplock bags? Were periods strictly American? Did I actually have to keep salt in my carry-on? Like, did I really believe that the next country wouldn’t know what salt was?
After hours of mental deconstruction, I came to understand the majority of the happiness I found in my life in America came from the knowledge that at any given moment, I was in control.
This raised one very important question: could I learn to be happy when my life was out of control?
I attended Brendan’s wedding shortly before leaving, and towards the end of the night, Alex-Hair-Insulter put down his camera and asked me to dance.
“What is the single biggest thing you’re learning in life right now?” I asked, carefully maneuvering my bare feet outside the radius of his black dress shoes. He thought for a long moment, then finally smiled and said: “I’m learning how to live in every present moment.”
While you’re in the thick of it, it can be really frightening to allow yourself the gift of presence. And World Racer or not, the journey from the beginning of anything to its inevitable end is chock-full of moments where you will totally lose control.
With equal distance both behind and before you, you have neither the comfort of looking back on your progress nor guarantee of smooth sailing ahead. The days fallen away still tell you nothing of what to expect in the days to come and your uncertainties stand with equal height both in front of and behind you.
The invitation extended to you is a simple one: show up. Just, show up.
Whatever it looks like, whatever time of day or weather pattern or community you find yourself in, be present.
Because space opens up with you open your hands and release the need for control. Your pack will be lighter, your heart will beat slower, and you’ll start to notice the way the clouds drifting over the sun leave patterns of shade on the ground. You might lose your title as Team Hoarder and you will definitely have moments when you’ll want to tell yourself, “I told you so” when people don’t come through. Be present anyway.
After all, I only get one shot at this moment. Why not let it give all it has to offer?
(My hair will thank me, too.)