He leans to his left look to around me–and, by extension, through me.
So it feels when you’re the odd man out. I’m the lone traveler. The know-no-one tourist. The solo pub-goer who looks distinctly out of place, more by his uncomfortable mannerisms than his outward appearance.
We are, after all, in Cardiff, Wales, and he and I look more alike than we look different.
The young man looks up with an honest smile.
“Just having a look at my things!” he says. His jacket and bag are tucked away in the corner of this old pub named The City Arms, which lay next to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
“I’ll guard ’em for ya,” I say.
He thanks me with a laugh and carries on, and I watch him for a moment gravitate like a mayor between handfuls of fellow pub-goers who figure to be his friends. I take back to my position standing there, beer in one hand, jacket in the other, looking up to the television where being played is the match going on next door as Wales’ national rugby team squares off against the nation of Tonga’s.
It turns out sometimes that a silly, simple, forgettable moment of exchange like that–and me, in all my sly, comedic glory–can change a night, an experience, and hell, a life altogether.
Now, let me temper myself, because you know how I can quickly get lost in my own words. It might be easy for me to sit here and tell you that what followed that evening was magical and adventurous or just unexpectedly fun (and it was), but that’s not what this story is about.
I think far too often those of us in privileged positions of being worldly travelers and entrepreneurs and running businesses intent on helping people can incidentally make pretend that every such moment or story is some profound, awakening, brag-worthy type of thing–it’s not done with malice but a touch of ignorance that leads the globe-trotting-explorer to forget that his or her experiences aren’t meant to convey awesomeness, epicness, amazingness, look-at-me-ness, but rather are vessels and vehicles of experience that we seek purely to invite many mirrors’ reflections.
We seek the reflections so that we can learn, grow, become more aware, deepen our souls, become truly whole, and to see ourselves in others because we are all one. We experience life, others and love to better ourselves–in doing so, we better all those whom we encounter in our lives.
It’s no different for anyone else.
For me, that’s why I push myself to travel.
Why I lead myself into unsure and uncomfortable circumstances that frankly make me feel sick to my stomach with worry and self-doubt. Oftentimes it’s these seemingly simple ventures into uncertain personal situations that are the most challenging for us–and why we must face them. Someone might fight this fight every instance in which she is about to attend a yoga class. A child might every morning before school. You might sitting in your office every day.
Life is little more than a series of moments and experiences and connections to fellow souls, and every little thread and fiber knit the sweaters that we wear across our lives.
So for the lone traveler like me, when an exuberant, overly kind guy like Roger returns to chat with me, ask if I’m there alone, and then invites me warmly into his group of friends, a life truly is changed, if only for one Friday night in Cardiff.
The In-Between Moments
With his arm around my shoulder like a longtime friend, Roger near carries me into his group of mates who are strewn throughout the pub in tight circles. Most are local to Cardiff and Wales, with a few from elsewhere like Denmark and London.
To say I hadn’t ever felt such hospitality and kindness from a group of peers I had only just met is an understatement. Even the simplest of gestures like being introduced to everyone in the group individually and by name and where he was from felt like I was in a new home. In Boston, bar-going guys would sooner punch you than they would shake your hand.
In New York City, bar-goers are more open to conversing but only because of the near certainty that they’ll never again cross paths: it’s a frictionless, responsibility-free lightness that invites the connection, but that same lightness that’s relied upon to figure you’re not making an investment in these people (because like every other New Yorker, you’re too busy, got too much going on, already have your set of friends, etc.).
But the warmth of Roger–his willingness to grab a tourist by the shoulder and make him feel at home–was enough to change the first night of my 17-day excursion in a massively rewarding, reassuring, invigorating way.
The night led into more and more rounds of drinks. Pints of bitters and ciders. Conversation and jokes. Hugs and high-fives. Maybe even some friendly kisses on the forehead between bros. (It happens.)
The lads explained the rules of rugby to me as the match carried on. Hours later, we meandered through cool Cardiff to another late-night bar as the night grew darker and hazier. I woke up to a headache so violent the next day that I could barely stand–a sacrifice I say was worth the investment into a wonderful evening with new friends.
But this story is not about me having a great night.
It’s not about me telling you what a fun time I had or how hung over I was the next day. Not to tell you how to go out and meet people when you travel or wax poetic about serendipity and life and all the things one could wax about.
I write this for you because it’s the “in between” moments that occur before and after a story like this you that seldom hear about, but that omit the very place where we find lasting joy in life.
It happens in the quiet pauses and empty spaces between experiences like being pulled by the shoulder by a kitchen cook named Roger in Cardiff, Wales into a fun night one won’t soon forget.
I write this for you because it’s a farce and a lie to ourselves to think that the entirety of life or love or happiness happen in these sporadic splashes of adventure and chance encounter.
We seek that, often. We pursue moments like those because they are fun, wild, unpredictable, reaffirming, romantic, powerful–they are the stories we wish to tell everyone we meet.
I write this for you because in those moments we love to dream of and pursue, we do feel happiness. But happiness is fleeting and momentary. And “in between” is where we find joy. Lasting joy.
Joy is a smile worn by the soul through the days and nights. Joy is grown from dedicated practice, ups and downs, many experiences and the will to be present, experiencing, and remembering what matters most to each of us. Joy is living your gratitude: conscious of each breath, intentional in where you move and how you move there.
Happiness and joy are used interchangeably but one is quite different from the other.
What you’re used to seeing and hearing are stories of moments of happiness–sometimes, at the cost of remembering that we only survive the doubt, worry, uncertainty and fear by joy “in between.” That’s because you don’t often hear anything about the moments “in between” all the adventures and chance bursts of story-book happiness.
If you really think about it, the adventurous stories are themselves the small, fleeting moments that occur “in between” long pauses of life that you and I live so routinely.
This story with Roger and Rhys and Kaz and company was just a minute flash in between hours of lonely wandering.
You don’t hear that I walked into some four pubs before the last, where this story ultimately begins. You don’t hear how badly I wanted a friend to be walking alongside me through the cold streets just before; how the sight of groups of friends and mates laughing over pints made me long for home.
You wouldn’t hear about these “in between” moments that exist before and after Instagram photos are snapped and shared. When slight windows of visions and scenes paint pictures but don’t fully convey the heart and soul behind the photographer who’s there in that moment.
You don’t hear about those dull, lonely, “in between” moments because, well, who wants to tell it? Or hear it?
Who wishes to bear what feels like their own burden of shame by projecting outwardly their worry and insecurity or loneliness onto the world, as if desperate for sympathy?
The irony is this: it’s in those long pauses of loneliness and shame, fear and uncertainty, unknowing and worry where we mostly live. This is the state of our being throughout many days and nights. These are the quiet thoughts that we don’t share because we figure, “Who wants to hear it?” These thoughts, this state of living, is a place where we hide within the caverns of our minds and melt over shame because we say that no one else should carry the burden we bear but ourselves.
We say we’ll look desperate. That it would feel a hollow way to seek sympathy.
But that is the real story–the reason for me writing you now.
I write this for you in those “in between” moments.
The empty pauses. The lonely walks. The first days after a heartbreak when you can’t sleep and can’t eat and can’t damn bear to be alone with yourself. I write this for you because I’ve been there. I’m often there. We’re all often there. It’s where we spend most of our time in life, in the “in between.”
And so we seek out the adventure; when flashes capture photos. We daydream of beachfront vacations and let our thoughts wander into visions of glorious fame and wealth and acclaim.
But what I want to tell you is that the “in between” matters so much more than you might realize: it’s where life happens, where joy is found, and where love is grown and shared. Three years ago I went skydiving–that’s the story I tell. But what that adventurous story of jumping from a plane at 16,000 feet fails to share is what joy was found in between arriving and jumping: in the six hours of waiting as our group conversed and explored one another’s hearts and souls.
What that story of dare-devil adventure fails to share is how those friendships have persevered these years later, not for the plane we leaped from but for the ground we stood upon.
Happiness is momentary. Joy is found in between.
And joy is found in between because we can only love presently: in each and every moment, for every moment that we live is an equally opportune one to give love and to be loved. Each moment begs us to be as honest and real as we possibly can be: to be authentic and true to self, to be present and open, to be considerate and vulnerable and kind.
This is an ode to your “in between.”
The moments and pauses that comprise more than 99.99% of the journey of life that you and I will each live. Let us find love there. Expose your soul in those dull, commonplace, easily-overlooked moments because you can and because bearing your heart may well reward you with a moment of adventure, an unexpected dance, a flash of the bulb that forges a lifetime of remembering.
It may not.
But either way, you can celebrate in your heart because it means that you will have been living your journey and living it proudly, true to your love, wholly yourself, unapologetically you.
How easy it is to ignore that desperate calling: a fundamental urge that you an I cannot escape to be seen, to be heard, to just be.
How easy it is to walk away when the chance arrives to be whole. To downplay or shun. To don a polite, tight-lipped smile instead of speaking. To carry off into the night, awaiting a flash of brilliant, story-worthy adventure–to spite the ordinary “in between.”
And how difficult it must be to be the one who puts his arm around a lone, traveling stranger and says to him, “You’re not alone anymore.”
To be seen, not looked around.
To feel love and kindness amongst a group of strangers.
To reciprocate by mustering all your presence, and listening, and offering stories, and, of course, enjoying a few too many rounds of pints.