Let This Be a Lesson to You

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

  • The throngs at Heathrow...

    The throngs at Heathrow...

Written by Lauren Mead

It's seven in the morning (London time). Heathrow airport is a bustling jungle of people holding up signs, shouting out names and walking with hurried determination towards the outdoors. There are six of us standing amidst this chaos with a mountain of luggage. We're hot. We're tired. The plane didn't crash, but we sure as hell want to go to sleep. And our car hire has left without us. When in London, this is what you should not do; let this be a lesson to you:

DO NOT, whereupon entering the city of London, arrive in a tiny European car with six girls, twenty-four bags of luggage (which just so happens to be on the roof, in the trunk, on the floor, covering the door, and in our laps) and one very strange (but nice) driver. Nor is it a good idea to forget all of your foreign adaptors on the guest room bed of your home, argue with the desk person at your new residence because you think your room does not exist, and very nearly get hit by two double-deckers, four motorcyclists and a classic black taxi. As I stomped up the (many) stairs to my room, I really hated England. England, as of September 9th, 2005 was the single biggest inconvenience of my life. So here's a question for you: why am I still here a week later? Why not just pack up and go home? Why is it that despite chaos, fears and hardship people still find the motivation to keep trudging along in the same direction?

I'll tell you why, but first let me tell you a story.

When he was seventeen, my father went backpacking through England. He didn't have very much money. When he could, he slept in huge one-room hostels with long rows of iron beds and communal showers. He only brought two pairs of underwear for two months! And on the very first day that he was in London, finding himself on the famous Carnaby Street, he spent nearly all of his money on a beautiful leather jacket. It's still hanging in our basement at home as a souvenir of the "hungry days" as my father calls it.

This may not seem like the kind of risk you might have been thinking about-you know, bungee jumping, sky diving, ut that's not what I mean. I'm talking about the kind of risk that leaves you sleeping in an airport for two days because of the decision you have made. So why even bother continuing on? Why did my father stay in London if it meant going hungry and cold? He told me it was because he was having the best time of his life.

I rode the underground for the first time the other day. The underground is like a massive gopher hole with elaborate tiled walls and whirring fluorescent lights around every corner. The trains are constantly grinding to a halt or zipping through the dark tunnels we Londoners call the "tube." Every so often a low whistle sounds and a polite voice comes over the intercom: "mind the gap," it says in perfect rhythm. I always do. I'm not the biggest risk taker. I like to look both ways before I cross the street (twice) and I always keep my wallet away from potential muggers. Being in control of how much risk you take feels good too. But on that particular day, when the usual voice rang out crisply it said, "Attention passengers. An unidentifiable package has been left on one of the trains on the Bakerloo line heading towards Elephant and Castle. That station is now being closed." My whole body was trembling so much that I nearly lost balance as our train shot towards Elephant and Castle. Bomb threats are really scary when you are already more than six feet under. Horrific images of fire and bits and pieces flying everywhere filled my mind as the train sped onwards. I gripped the pole next to me so hard that I thought my knuckles would break. Would the glass shatter first? Or would the roof just cave in and bury us alive? Escape routes and explosions danced through my head like rotten sugarplums. I thought I was going to die.
And then my stop came up. I got off the train (in one piece) and promptly left the station. A strange thing happened just then: I felt exhilarated. I had survived! Despite my many fears (that's another story) and the fact that around every corner in London there is some kind of chaotic inconvenience, taking risks feels good. My blood feels warmer and my whole body tingles with excitement when I am doing something risky. Taking risks doesn't necessarily have to be something dangerous either; it means doing something new and exciting (and maybe even a little uncomfortable) and finding out you can handle it.

While you are living, this is what you should not do: DO NOT be afraid to take risks no matter how much you think your heart might stop beating. It won't. Go everywhere you can even if you think you might not make it back. (And hey, you can still pack an extra pair of undies if you want to. Just don't be afraid to use them when the time comes.) Let this be a lesson to you.

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