Four people were hiking on a wooded trail when they come upon a body lying face down next to a creek - the head hanging below the bank so far they could not see it. Cautiously, they approached while whispering to one another about what they fear they may have discovered.
Suddenly, the body jumps up and its owner exclaims, "It's OK, I'm NORMAL!"
That body was mine, and the hikers didn't look convinced. Heck, some of you may think the jury is still out on that point.
Then they saw my camera and relaxed somewhat as I explained I was trying to get a good perspective and steady my camera for the shot you see above. We made a little small talk and it turns out they lived somewhat near me and were also visiting the area. Of course, they asked if I was a photographer and I told them it was a hobby and I came up to the mountain several times a year just to get away .
One of the women asked me, "Where do you like to eat breakfast?" I was a bit caught off guard by the question and wasn't sure if they were asking for information or inviting me to eat with them. It had been a few days since I'd made small talk with strangers and my social skills were getting sort of rusty. I'm pretty sure it was the former though.
Unfortunately for them, in the five times I'd visited this area, I'd never eaten at a local restaurant. The hermitage where I stay has a small kitchen with a two burner stove, a microwave and a toaster oven. I always just pack all the food I need and cook simple meals when I'm on retreat.
When I told them I'd never checked out any of the local restaurants, they looked at me like I was very strange. (As if finding me face down on the forest floor wasn't evidence enough).
We said awkward goodbyes, none of us really knowing how to gracefully end the conversation. I resumed my prostrate position beside the creek. No one called the police.
On the final morning of my retreat, I was making my usual three-egg omelet when I tipped over the cup containing the eggs I had just whisked into a sink full of soapy dishes. I had no back up eggs. So much for cooking my own breakfast. Two turkey sausage patties were not going to sustain me for the two hour drive home, so I decided to stop and eat on my way out of town.
Not far from the retreat center there is a little street of quaint restaurants, antique shops and other crafty looking establishments. There was also a bicycle store with a picturesque display that I'd noticed on my way into town. I was needing a photo of a bike for my Scavenger Hunt 101 project, so I'd planned to stop in that area. Turned out, it was actually a trike not a bike, but I took a picture anyway.
After taking a few shots, I shuffled up the street carpeted with fallen leaves and was greeted by the smell of a wood burning fire. Right there on the corner was a little eatery called "The Blue Chair Cafe" and the aroma was coming from a chiminea positioned by the outdoor seating area. It was a picture perfect fall morning and there was seating available in front of the fire. There was no doubt this was the place for me.
Quaint, cozy and full of charm it was, and I fell in love with it immediately. From this point forward, no future visits to Sewanee will end without at least one trip to this adorable cafe. The food was fantastic as well and they serve breakfast all day. Too bad I didn't know that when I'd encountered the hikers. At least now I have a good response for the question "where do you like to eat breakfast" should anyone ask me again.
Once home and reconnected to the outside world via the internet, I googled The Blue Chair Cafe and found that it had been featured on a locally produced public TV show called "Tennessee Crossroads." This is shaping up to be a long post, but if you have a few extra minutes, watch this video and continue reading below.
And, I thought I'd just been visiting a cute cafe with great coffee and vintage flair. Who knew that all the seemingly unrelated events that lead me to this place were just setting the scene for a huge life lesson?
Naturally, I was impressed by the story of the proprietor's vision to help women in need and her success in making that vision a reality. Here is a woman who is really making a difference in the world.
But, there's the other part of the story where a more subtle but profound theme emerges. That is the "story within the story." Richard Rohr covered this in the introduction of the book I just happened to be reading while I ate my classic breakfast at the cafe. That is, The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety , I'd bought just minutes before at the retreat center.
Rohr likes to call this "what we are really doing when we are doing what we are doing." My take away from Susan Binkley's story was that of a woman who swung enthusiastically at every seeming curve ball thrown at her and eventually hit a home run.
She must have been frustrated at times as it is clear she had one vision for her future and it seemed the river of life seemed to be carrying her in a completely different direction. Knowing that she graduated with a fine arts degree, one can assume she wanted to make her living creating art. Instead, she ended up in the remodeling business with her husband, and got stuck with a cafe when a client backed out of a deal. Embracing the challenge, she created a thriving business which gave her a platform to raise the money needed to fulfill a dream she had of helping abused and addicted women.
In hindsight, Binkley knows it was all a part of the big puzzle of her life. I don't know how much time she spent on her art during those years, but it is clear she found a way to use her talents in whatever she was doing. She is a living and breathing example that trusting we are where we need to be at any given moment ultimately will pay off . All we need to do is say yes to to the challenges we face along the way - embracing our setbacks as a necessary part of the journey (because they are).
We really have two paths to choose from when we are faced with a life that doesn't seem to fit at all in within our master plan.
The first path is to indulge ourselves in self-pity, dig our heels in the ground and refuse to find any joy in our station - falsely believing that relief will only come when we find a way out, instead of looking for a way through. In choosing this path we become the victim in our life story, versus the hero. This path leads to bitterness, envy and does absolutely nothing to further our journey towards the life we want. In fact, it may very well stand in our way.
The second path, the path chosen by Susan Binkley, is one of embracing the unexpected and making the best of whatever situation we find ourselves - trusting there is a force that is greater than our own will and is not interested in thwarting our dreams but making them come true. Fight with that force and you stay stuck, and exhaust your energy in the process. Let that force carry you along and you will move forward more quickly than you could imagine possible and have energy to spare once you reach your destination. This is the hero's journey.
Whatever we are doing, we are doing something and going somewhere, even if it appears we are stuck or moving in the wrong direction. The story is written, our choice is how we want to play our part in it - hero, victim or minor character.
When I first retreated to the mountains a big part of what I was doing was trying to figure out what I should DO about various situations in my life that seemingly had no resolution. Although the retreat experience has been tremendously positive for me, I admit to feeling a bit let down that there were so many unanswered questions after a year. In other words, I still didn't know what I should DO.
I admit, I'd sort of hoped to gain some tremendous insight, write a memoir about it and all I have been through in this first half of life would suddenly make sense - have a purpose other than turning my hair prematurely grey. In the space of four seasons everything would miraculously become clear, I would know what I was supposed to do and it would all be tied up in a nice little package with a pretty bow on top as my gift to the world.
It didn't really happen that way, but in a another way it kinda did.
On my first retreat, I had the sense of a new beginning. On the last, I had a sense that I'd only just begun. It wasn't until I came home that I understood the answer to my bigger questions.
Just do what you are doing while you are doing it.
Ok, I think I finally get it. Some of the simplest lessons in life are the hardest to learn.
The last thing I will do this morning is leave you with one of my favorite poems by Wislawa Szymborska. It is a love poem, but beautifully illustrates the point I'm awkwardly trying to make here. That is, "every beginning is but a continuation, and the book of events is never more than half open."
Love at First Sight
Both are convinced
that a sudden surge of emotion bound them together.
Beautiful is such a certainty,
but uncertainty is more beautiful.
Because they didn't know each other earlier, they suppose that
nothing was happening between them.
What of the streets, stairways and corridors
where they could have passed each other long ago?
I'd like to ask them
whether they remember-- perhaps in a revolving door
ever being face to face?
an "excuse me" in a crowd
or a voice "wrong number" in the receiver.
But I know their answer:
no, they don't remember.
They'd be greatly astonished
to learn that for a long time
chance had been playing with them.
Not yet wholly ready
to transform into fate for them
it approached them, then backed off,
stood in their way
and, suppressing a giggle,
jumped to the side.
There were signs, signals:
but what of it if they were illegible.
Perhaps three years ago,
or last Tuesday
did a certain leaflet fly
from shoulder to shoulder?
There was something lost and picked up.
Who knows but what it was a ball
in the bushes of childhood.
There were doorknobs and bells
on which earlier
touch piled on touch.
Bags beside each other in the luggage room.
Perhaps they had the same dream on a certain night,
suddenly erased after waking.
is but a continuation,
and the book of events
is never more than half open.
-translated by Walter Whipple
Linking up today with Deb Duty's This or That Thursday.