Asteroids vs. Comets

Friday, January 3, 2014 / 9:00 AM

We'll get to the point someday where I don't need to tell you about the time I got on a bus with two suitcases and no place to live and ended up in Manhattan on a Tuesday afternoon--I promise. Here's the one thing you should know about me: I'm terrible at being spontaneous.

I'm terrible at doing anything without a plan, really, which is ridiculous considering I gave my commencement speech on how it's ok to not have a plan every time you think you need one. And I believe it--but isn't it the case that our own advice is always the hardest to take?

But I think I've always been like this. During my kindergarten science fair, I was part of a demonstration/skit where a bunch of us wore brown paper bags with holes and held hands to represent the asteroid belt. We spent the week practicing our cues--when to step onto the asphalt stage of the playground, where to walk, when to exit--but on the day of the fair, a teacher asked me if I wanted to be a comet instead.

So I got dressed in a white sash and hat and prepared to stand with the rest of the comets as the show began. And then I looked around at the rest of the comets and suddenly realized I didn't know what I was doing. The teachers told me to just follow what the others were doing, and it wouldn't be difficult at all, but I panicked. I didn't know how to be a comet!

I ran to my teacher and started to cry. "I can't be a comet!" I said while she tried to calm me down. "I'm not a comet!"

Nowhere in my tear-filled babbling did I say what I wanted to be though, but she let me go back to being an asteroid anyways, and it was fine. An odd number of comets wasn't the end of the world, and I doubt any of the parents in the audience cared all too much. I was relieved to be part of the asteroid belt again, but couldn't help feel as if I'd let someone down by running away from being on my own.

Looking back, I really don't think I could have been a comet. I wasn't ready to be a comet--and something in my five-year-old brain knew it. But two years ago, when I got off that bus at Port Authority, even though it was terrifying and I could count the number of people I actually knew in the city on half of a hand...for the first time in my life, I think I was ready to truly and completely be on my own.

Perhaps if I'd shot onto the stage as a comet 20 years ago, I'd be a different person today and you wouldn't be reading this at all. But then I wouldn't be me--this person with two decades worth of good and bad experiences that eventually led her to do something as ridiculous as arrive in a large and busy city with no place to live and no promise of any sort of future.

Life really is about the journey, and most of the time you don't know where that journey will take you. If you'd told Five-Year-Old Traci where she'd be in 2014, she wouldn't understand a single picture you're trying to paint.

Change isn't always bad. "The unknown" is really just another way to describe the future. As scary as not having a plan can be (or having your plans upended), it's comforting to know that uncertainty and fear are never permanent. I may still be scared about not knowing what will happen next on this journey, but I know that won't be the only thing that defines my narrative.

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