The sidewalks are blankets of soft white down marked by fateâs dark footprints running alongside wet runny black streets.
Cold horse hoofs and slipping tires do their best to carry the shivering and the snuggled along New Yorkâs asphalt avenues. Saint Vincent de Paulâs bell rings in the distance, blue and silver lights are sparkling, roasted chestnuts are being placed in paper bags by hard-working mittens while the dash of Santas-in-the-making balance secret bundles of wishes within their loving arms.
Steam warms the tip of a young womanâs nose as she carefully curls her pink thirsty lips around the porcelain rim of the soup dish-like cup. She hugs the coffee cup with her hands, letting her palms enjoy the heat. âYeah, so anyway the video gameâs broken…â Her boyfriend of two months is talking to her, tapping the edge of the coffee shopâs round wooden table with his coffee-stained silver teaspoon. âHush,â the snow-framed window seems to whisper. Staring out through the frosted glass she no longer hears her boyfriendâs words. The young woman hoped that he would have remembered today is her birthday, but he hasnât… and so she has unconsciously stopped listening to almost everything heâs saying… besides which she has recently grown to despise video games.
The private garden that the young woman had visited only a few months before is not too far down the street from the toasty coffee shop where the two of them are sitting. She can even see the tall wrought iron gate leading into that hidden womb of wisdom. The entrance is noticeably open. She smiles, deciding that today is the perfect day to visit the artists she met there… but no, they wonât be there in this snow, she reasons. Strong winds push the wrought iron gate open even wider. Maybe I should go over there and close the gate, the birthday girl thinks. She sets down her cup, feeling how it has cooled from the warmth it once had as she silently observes her âboyfriendâ sitting on the other side of the table. She tears into a small brown wrapper with the words, âSugar in the Rawâ boldly printed on it as her black newly manicured nails glisten. Spilling a few sugary crystals onto the table she quickly brushes them to the side.
âI donât know about the black,â her boyfriend observes out loud.
âYou donât know about what?â she replies, hardly noticing he has spoken.
âThe black nail thing. French manicures are more you.â
âBlack fingernails are exactly who I am! Iâm defined by each moment, as I wish to be, thank you very much. I am always changing.â
He laughs, âThatâs so philosophical of you. Iâm just sayinâ. I know you. Black nails are not you.â
âYou donât know me. You donât even know how old I am,â she snarls.
Missing the hint of how he is forgetting her birthday (by her reference to age) she watches an inappropriately cocky slant overcome his sensually ruby-tinted lips… lips that she had been helplessly attracted to months ago. âTwenty,â he smirks.
âThat was yesterday,â she snaps. âYouâre obviously too young for me now!â Tears well up in her eyes as she pushes her chair away from the table.
âIâm twenty-seven!â he rolls his eyes. âWhere are you going?!â
âSomewhere where I am welcomed to be me!â And with that she shoves her hands into her fuzzy red gloves, grips her coat tightly around her alert bosoms, and quickly makes her way into the snow…
Ah… If only transformations were as easy as choosing a new fingernail color! Yet, like a great manicure, before a total transformation can occur we go through numerous transitions first… taking off the old color, washing away the residue, buffing, and finally polishing ourselves anew.
Inspired by the graceful fall of autumn leaves, last month I began Part One of this blog about transformation by first, curiously, interviewing a handful of diverse men and women (between the ages of 20 – 91 years old) about their own personal transformations. I asked each person that I spoke with to tell me about one of their most significant transformations… what instigated it, what their biggest obstacle was, and how they transformed. Then after my last little question & answer session, I went home to quietly reflect on everyoneâs individual story. What I discovered surprised me because regardless of the specific answers to the above three questions there was a subtle, common reality that each of them seemed to share: everyone wanted to escape. Escape from what? An illusion that they had become one with.
How had they each become one with an illusion? It is surprisingly simple. At one time or another it seems that they had merely defined themselves. Such as the young Trojan USC football player who stated, âBeing a Trojan defines me.âÂ Or, Charles Dickens who laughingly said, âAh, if only I had brought a cigar with me!Â This would have established my identity.â After filming The Last Picture Show Peter Bogdanovich was quoted saying, âWe all went down to Texas as one person, and we all came back different people,â referring to his fatherâs death, his pending divorce, and falling in love with his leading lady… all of this happening while the movie was being filmed. A person who has merged with an illusion about what defines them has attached (and in some cases committed) their identity to people or something around them that is inherently incapable of mutually evolving with them: cultural expectations, a relationship, a title, their reputation, objects, status, etc.. until they realize that they are increasingly unhappy and that they are somehow mismatched in their relationship with others and with themselves. The illusion suddenly loses all of its attraction. Once disillusionment has occurred, the desire for happiness and liberation sets in. Yet being whisked away into a brighter future is commonly interrupted by the guilt and/or sadness of letting go of the prior definition of oneself. Usually geographic change will follow disillusionment or at the very minimum a dramatic change in the atmosphere of the daily environment.
According to Dai Williams, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, there are six enabling factors in transition (Â© Eos Career Services):
Prior Transition Skills
Supportive Work Environment
For me it is the âPrior Transition Skillsâ that seem most pertinent. Why? One or more of the other five factors (while certainly helpful in making a transition) may not be present in someoneâs life at this particular time, and the absence of one or more of those factors may indeed be the very reason one is disillusioned. Most of us over the age of six have exercised our transition skills, for example, our joyfully proud leap from being a âlittleâ kindergartener to being a âbig kidâ in elementary school. Then thereâs high school! Hello! While the transitioning processes can feel awkward and experiences associated with them can be negative, ultimately transformation itself is the reward. Hindsight has always been my smile-bouncing cheerleader. Kind of like a perky, âSee, you can do it. Youâve done this kind of thing before!â Once confidence in transitioning is gained transformation is inevitable!
If the beginning of transformation is rooted in the initial definition of âWho am I?â then transformation is a most probable irony ending in the definition of âThis is who I have become.â Is there an easy way through this?! Iâm not sure. I guess that will depend on how Iâve defined myself and how I will define myself in the future… As of right now?! Oh, sure thatâs easy. Um… on second thought, letâs go back to the story instead.
The coffee shop is only a few blocks away from where sheâs standing, and her now ex-boyfriend is gone. The heavy wrought iron gates tower above her, each horizontal bar covered in snow the same way white icing sweetly drips off the roof of a gingerbread house. The wind presses itself against her face, flicking long chilly strands of her brunette locks into her eyes. Squinting, she strains to see farther down the now snowy path she had walked along in October. The squirrels are gone… and so are the flowers. Brown lonely twigs peek up at her from the snow-covered ground. The trees remind her of tall thin runway models wearing white couture gowns with white winter hats. No, the artists arenât here, she confirms to herself. She takes hold of one of the bars on the gate and tries to push the gate closed. It is much heavier than she remembers. She pushes again. Nothing. Knowing the artists arenât in the garden makes her want to protect it for them. She tries to close the gate again, this time with both hands. Finally, it budges, but only a little because her delicately designed boots keep slipping on the ice. She huffs out loud.
âWhat are you doing?â says a voice.
Startled, she spins around on the ice under her platform sky-high boots.
âAre you lost?â a young man asks.
âWhy would I be lost?â Her long black lashes bat from behind snowflakes in embarrassment. Her voice is soft. Her eyes are gentle and disarming. There is a thin trail of black eyeliner running down her cheek and the young man tenderly wonders whether she has been crying.
âWell, this is private property… Mine, now actually,â he states without trying to sound too authoritative.
âYours?â she questions.
âIâm Christophe. My grandfather owned this land, but… he recently passed away.â
Alarmed, she blurts out, âAre you Greek or Italian?!â
âAnd his friend, the Italian man? Where is he? I met them both once… not too long ago. Iâm so sorry,â her voice trembles, and she isnât sure whether it is because she is sad or because she is cold.
âHe lives with my family. Heâs good. Would you like to come over to visit him? Iâm sure heâd love the company.â
âIs he still carving sculptures?â her voice perks up in hope.
âYes, always!â the young man laughs with the kind of a laugh that makes the young woman want to be happy. His eyes shine like two blue pieces of sky borrowed from a sunny day.
âWhatâs he working on now?â
âI canât tell and when I asked him he told me it âisnât important.â He said, âAh Christophe, Iâm just enjoying the process…â and I understand what he means… at least I think I do…â
âHey,â she exclaims. âIâm just curious. I know you donât know me but pretend you do for a second, k?â
âOk…â he tentatively replies.
âWhat do you think is more me? A French manicure or glossy black fingernails?!â
âYou donât have to stick with just one choice to be you, do you?â
âNo, actually,â she giggles in a very girlish manner. âI am always me!â Her cheeks are rosy and warm as her lips curl up in a brand new smile.