You know how some days just come and go and we cannot really pinpoint anything major that happened between the time we woke up and the time we went to bed?
And then there are other days.
Days upon which we can look back and say: Yup, that's when things shifted. Sometimes, we can even identify the exact second the shift happened, the moment that will forever define Before ... and After.
Eight years ago today, May 22, 2011, contained one of these Defining Moments.
It had started the night before. A burgeoning sense of unease, a slight but sickening sense of "non-belonging."
My kids were getting older, and I could feel their need for me melt a little more each day; my then partner had recently moved two hours away, and there was a "thing" growing inside of me: a shapeless yet firm "thing" that made me ache for a sense of belonging, while pointing to the places where it was lacking.
And yet, that morning was to be a rich one as I would drive to the airport to hold my daughter as she returned from a year in Brazil and then make my way to another terminal and greet a close friend who was also coming back from a special trip. I would drive him to his home in Seattle, and my daughter would spend a few hours with her dad while I made my way back home to the island. All good stuff.
Except for "the thing."
The Thing was kind enough to be quiet as I met my daughter at the gate and gave her a long, long hug. It managed to be polite enough as I found the other gate and met my friend. Once in the car and before we reached the parking lot, it began to stir. By the time we got to the highway, there was no pretending. I needed... something. And I needed it quick. I explained what was happening to my friend, and he listened. Community, he said. I was craving Community.
Having a name for it, I was now ready to fix it, to add what I saw as a painfully missing piece. "How about we get a big house in Seattle, and you move into it, and we invite a few other people, and I live there every other week when my kids are with their dad?"
He looked at me. I took it as encouragement: "Let's go look for a house right now. Today!" Hearing the desperation in my voice was enough to clue me into the fact that I was moving too fast. As I dropped him off at his house, he told me that "we should think about it," and hugged me goodbye a little longer than usual.
I drove on, The Thing now fully awake - and empowered.
What happened next fed me a dose of Compassion that is lasting me to this day and I hope will for life.
A bridge. I was to drive over a tall bridge in order to get to the other side of a lake. I entered the bridge, and then BAM... some sort of awareness took me over. A strong, all-powerful knowing that unless I talked to myself constantly until I reached the other side, unless I stayed focused on my driving in an almost trance-like way... I may try to drive my car off the shoulder of the bridge and possibly tumble down to the water.
I did. I talked to myself the whole way, one yard at a time, one hundred percent present, and holding the steering wheel as though my life depended on it. Which it perhaps did.
Then I slowly parked my car, took the key out of the ignition, and allowed myself a big, long sob.
Once emptied of all crackly and unexamined bits of angst, I made a call and told a close friend that I was going to go home and open a Center of some sort. What sort? I did not know yet. But a Center for sure. A container for the Community I so desperately needed.
And so I did. Within weeks, the doors to The Center for Happiness opened.
The first few months were a little hiccupy as The Center and I "courted" each other, trying to figure out what it was we wanted our relationship to be. By December it was starting to gel nicely, I could see a few pebbles marking the way, and the Essence of Community was oozing from all the pores of the Ballroom 100-year-old floor.
Almost eight years later, I look back at that time and marvel at the richness of all the friendships, local and global projects, laughter, tears, goodness and yes, COMMUNITY that continue to be created from its buttery yellow walls.
In the rearview mirror, it makes sense.
Even my once in a lifetime bridge moment makes sense. Just as I hope to never feel this way again (and had never before), I believe that I needed this level of intensity in order to take action, an action that seemed quite "unreasonable" at the time, and continued to feel unreasonable for several years.
Today, as I sit in the Ballroom writing this to you, as I get ready to celebrate seven years of the now international Happiness Sprinkling Project and the beautiful online Gratitude Community, as I put out yet one more bowl of dark chocolate for tonight's yoga class - I know that this is just the way it is supposed to be.
And I invite YOU to join me in listening to our deep yearnings, to the voices that tell us that we are summoned, that we have a job to do - even though it may not even have a name yet and may not make any sense on paper. I invite you to hold on to that steering wheel when you cross that bridge and to follow the pebbles. I invite you to honor your very own Defining Moments.
For those of you who have loved the Center and let it love you for all these years, thank you for creating it, and continuing to create it with me. For those of you who are far away or maybe have just never climbed up the 55 stairs up to the Ballroom, I very much hope that our paths will cross someday.