The Way I Carry Things

Part One

A moment of truth is defined as a critical or decisive time on which much depends – a moment when a person or thing is put to the test. I was put to the test in January 2014, caught in Atlanta’s epic snow storm that paralyzed the city and left thousands of people stranded overnight in cars, grocery stores, and hotel lobbies. Harrowing accounts are being told of children stranded on school buses, as well as heartwarming stories of strangers helping their fellow citizens. I have no doubt that many found lessons as well as inspiration in the events. This post is a chronicle of my moments of truth.

On that fated day, I was leading a session scheduled from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. I had flown into Atlanta from Arizona primarily for this meeting, and upon hearing the snow was expected to begin mid-day, I was optimistic that we would be able to finish our agenda and get on the road before the major rush hour (and inevitable chaos) began.

By noon, mid-session, the snow had begun to fall. Members of the group began receiving emails alerting them to school closures, as well as an authorized early release for employees.

Moment of Truth, 12:00 p.m. – To Lead or Default

I looked around and observed the buzz as people checked their mobile devices. “Should we consider whether or not to proceed?” I asked. One nodded “Yes.” Others either shook their head “No,” or did not respond. I simply moved on.

Did I make a split second judgment based on what appeared to be consensus? Or did I allow the majority response to affirm my typical tendency to forge onward despite obstacles?

I thought about that decision many times over the following 24 hours.

Moment of Truth, 2:15 p.m. – To Rush Forward or Plan

We finished the session on time, at 2 p.m. After tidying the room and packing up my things, I headed to the elevators, bound for the parking garage. I heard a voice call after me. “Are you leaving?”

I turned and saw a woman I don’t know. She continued. “…because you won’t get out. There’s a back-up in the parking garage and gridlock on the road outside the office.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “But I’d rather get started.” I continued walking – and she persisted.

“Wait two hours at least. Do you have Netflix on your computer? Sit and watch a movie.”

I thanked her again, but proceeded to the garage – quickly. I didn’t even stop at the restroom on my way out.

There’s a part of me whose motto is “Patience be damned, I’m coming through.” It’s tenacious, deliberate and clear. But sometimes I fail to consider the impact of my choices on own well-being.

I would consider this choice many times throughout the afternoon.

Moment of Truth, 3:45 p.m. – Taking Action

Because I exited the garage via the visitor lot, I didn’t experience the inside lines that I had been warned about. I would see them an hour later, when I had moved just two car lengths from the visitor exit.

Radio broadcasts provided no encouragement to my growing frustration and concern. It appeared that the entire metro area was in similar shape.

Ninety minutes and three car lengths post departure, I found myself at another choice point. On my right was a short access road between two buildings. I frequent the area, so I knew it led to the back of a shopping center parking lot. An idea had been germinating during the time spent in gridlock. I could park my rental car and walk the six or so miles to my friend Sara’s house in Dunwoody, where I had been staying. I googled the average miles per hour a human walks in order to gauge whether I would arrive before dark.

Despite being unsure how long it would take to traverse the distance between my location and the parking lot, and a bit nervous about losing my place on the main thoroughfare, I turned right. I could decide about the walk once I arrived at the lot. The fact that I now needed to use the restroom provided more motivation to turn.

It was a very good decision.

Moment of Truth, 4:00 p.m. – Being Resourceful

The pavement was becoming treacherous and I entered the parking lot carefully, looking for open restaurants that might allow me to use the facilities. Then, I spotted REI. Yes!

Parked and in the store, I said to the clerk: “I’m going to buy clothes. First, do you have a restroom I can use?” He pointed me to the back.

In that moment, my decision was made. I would purchase gear to supplement my somewhat meager winter outfit, and then set out for Sara’s on foot in the 22 degree day.

Considering the garments I needed, I approached the clearance section, as I was not inclined to spend more than necessary on items that I already had at home in Arizona. I selected a lined and hooded jacket that would fit nicely under my wool blazer and cape, then found a pair of thin wool socks that I could gift to my husband after my trek. I had gloves already, and the hoodie would serve as a warm hat. Amazingly, my dress boots were suitable for walking in the snow. But approaching the checkout counter, I realized I was wearing a thin skirt. Back to the clearance rack I went, settling on a thick pair of leggings. Done.

Clad in tights, wool socks, boots, leggings, a skirt, silk shirt, jacket, blazer, cape and hood, I left the building with just one more decision to make.

Moment of Truth, 4:30 p.m. – My Heavy Load

I couldn’t leave my laptop bag behind, locked in the rental car. Besides my computer, it housed all of my small electronics, files with client notes, and various other “important” items. I didn’t know when I would get back to the car – and the temps were forecast to dip into the teens. And, while I’m not overly cautious, I would never have left valuables in a parked car overnight under normal conditions, let alone these.

Seeking to lighten the load, I removed a box of markers, but was still left with 16 pounds of cargo. Being an avid hiker, I can easily carry that weight in a backpack. A briefcase would present a challenge on my long walk.

REI sells backpacks. I re-approached the clerk and asked if there were any inexpensive backpacks. He chuckled. “I’m afraid backpacks are never cheap,” he replied. I briefly considered looking at packs, then rationalized that it would take a quite large one – another thing I didn’t need as I had an ample supply at home. I left the store.

This decision would form the metaphor for my greatest lesson of the trip. How much easier would my journey (in life as well to Dunwoody) be if I would just change the way I carry things?

The weekend before my adventure, I had hiked many miles over rugged terrain. I calculated that this six-mile walk would take less than two hours. Not a problem – except for that bag.

For the first 45 minutes, I was fine, admittedly even a bit smug as I passed growing gridlock. I realized that waiting two hours at the office would not have helped. (In fact, those who waited spent the night there – safe, but not my idea of a relaxing evening). I was quite warm, despite heavily falling snow. Approaching a commercial area called Dunwoody Village, I stopped for tea at a still-open Chinese restaurant to rest my arms that were already growing tired from the weight of my case.

Setting out again, my mind became focused on my load. What if I couldn’t do this – then what? What if my arms cramp or just give out? I would have one of these thoughts, create a possible but far-fetched solution, then take a deep breath and switch arms.

It’s funny what the mind does when given time. I regretted not having left my pack at my client’s office. But I couldn’t have known it would become the thorn in my side. 

In the village, I looked for one of those rental storage places where I could leave my bag. No luck – but I rationalized that it probably wouldn’t have been open anyway.

I fantasized that someone I knew would be on the road, shout at me, and offer to take my bag in their car. Little did I know the number of cars that would be abandoned before the night was over, some towed away the next day. That would not have been a good solution.

Pre 9-11, I might have tried asking a security guard in an office park to lock it up for me. But now, I presumed, they might call the FBI after such a request. I briefly considered asking a father out sledding with his three young sons if I could buy their small sled to haul it. But I was unsure whether that would be of benefit without one of my huskies to pull it.

So many mantras filled my head. One step in front of the other. Pay attention or you will slip and fall. Slow down and breathe – this is not a race. Going back is not an option. On and on, but one refrain was the loudest.

“The journey would be easy without this load.” Perhaps it was the solitude of the walk in the snow that created this echo in my head. It was the one I could not shake, and it holds meaning beyond this trek.

By the time I returned home the trip was costly, but worth every choice that involved spending money. So why was I unwilling to purchase a backpack, the one item that would have made my journey an easy hike? Why am I sometimes unable, or unwilling, to lighten the other loads I carry in life?

Do I underestimate the drag they create in my quest for forward movement? Do l fail to see a simple solution, a re-design of the way in which I carry my valuables? Am I not investing in the solution? I’ll ponder these questions, and I hope you will too.

Moment of Truth, 6:00 p.m. – Asking for Help

At 6 p.m., I was nearly to Sara’s – about a mile to go. I crossed the icy GA 400 overpass at Northridge Road, and turned right onto Dunwoody Place. Suddenly, no more gridlock. The road, though dangerous, was almost empty.

I paused to ponder for a minute, and then put down my case and took out my phone. I called Sara, who earlier had offered to come get me at Dunwoody Village. She was kind to volunteer, but would only have become victim to the jam. Now, perhaps she could help.

I explained that I thought she could get to me now, and being both brave and generous, she told me she would be right there. I kept walking.

About five minutes later, I encountered the reason there was no traffic.  A school bus full of children was disabled and blocking the road. Parents from the neighborhood were embracing their kids who were filing off unhurt.

Immediately I reached for my phone to call Sara, who was dialing me. She was stopped by a barricade on the other side of the bus. I had feared that she had gotten trapped in herself, but miraculously she was waiting for me in a driveway. Once there, I put my load in the backseat and hopped into the car for the short trip to her home.

Soon I was sitting by the fireplace enjoying a wonderful meal – something few commuters experienced in Atlanta that evening.

Moment of Truth, today – Heeding the Lesson

I’m back in Arizona, where it’s sunny and 70 degrees. My arms aren’t even sore, because I’m strong and fit. But just think of how far I could go if I changed the way I carry things.


Part Two

I’ve never liked errands, and do-overs are especially annoying. So I was determined to complete the task of returning a gallon of mismatched paint to Home Depot quickly and efficiently.

As I carried the nearly-full bucket across the parking lot, I wondered when they stopped using a plastic sleeve on the wire handle. This might have changed in the 80s and I never noticed, but it felt like the thin strip of metal, ready to pierce my hand, was a design flaw. By the time I reached the door, I had enough. I lifted the can to my midsection, cradling it in my arms. Relief.

Halfway between the front door and the paint department, I noticed a strange, sickening sensation. My clothes felt wet from my torso to my right foot. Slowing my pace, I looked down cautiously. Not only was yellow-orange paint running down my body and dripping onto my (new) shoes, I had left a long trail of the same on the floor of the store.

I stopped in my tracks. Even a slight movement would create more of a mess. Almost immediately, a Home Depot associate approached and handed me a small roll of paper towels. The look on my face must have suggested they would hardly do the job, because he said with a smile, “Those are for you. We’ll take care of the floor.” Kindly, he added: “It happens all the time.” I doubt that’s true, but it was nice of him to say.

Apologizing profusely, I began mopping up my shirt and pants. Then, I noticed my shoes – my new shoes! I asked where the restroom was and sprinted there, trying to make it before the paint began to dry.

As I was washing my shoes in the sink, another cheerful and kind employee approached me. She said they had free t-shirts at the contractor’s desk, and would be happy to give me one. I thanked her, but by this time the paint had nearly dried and my shirt was wearable, though ruined. And I had things to do.

By now you might be wondering why the paint can lid was loose. I can only say it must not have been shut tightly when last used (by a painter, not me), though of course I should have checked it. But the bigger question is why I carried a paint can tipped on its side like a baby doll. The way I carry things has been a subject of much examination of late. “Here we go again,” I thought, as I sheepishly made my way back to the scene of the incident.

Workers had set up large barricades so that customers didn’t accidentally step in the wet paint. Once again, I apologized and offered to help, but they assured me they had the proper people and materials for this kind of job. I retrieved my can and made my way to the paint counter to accomplish my original purpose.

It turns out the task of trying to match my custom color was going to be a lengthy one. I had originally allotted 30 minutes for the entire errand prior to a conference call, but my delay used that and more. I told the paint associate I would check back, dialed into my call, and began wandering about the store.

With only a portion of my attention on the call, I began to notice things I needed. Soon, my arms were loaded. Another friendly associate approached me and asked if he could get me a cart. (There was probably an alert out to watch for a woman with paint-stained clothes who carried things poorly).

“A cart! Yes, that would be kind of you,” I exclaimed, as if he had the most brilliant and original idea. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to mute my call, and now the entire group knew I was shopping. A minor faux pas given this particular call, but it was the second embarrassing moment that hour.

And then it dawned on me. A readily available shopping cart would have been an ideal device for carrying that can of paint into the store, just like an easily obtained backpack would have eased my significant load during a trek through an Atlanta blizzard in January.

What is wrong with me?

Readers of my posts know I have a life-long pursuit of presence, the ability to make the most of the moment at hand. And for at least the last five years, that practice has extended to a present awareness of my body – everything from how I stand and sit, to what nutrition or amount of rest I need.

I suppose I’m still “practicing,” because this morning I hauled my very heavy suitcase/computer case up a small set of stairs. After I had lugged it, I examined why I had not simply disconnected the two pieces, balancing one in each hand. The answer was the same as it was for the backpack and the shopping cart. Time. In an attempt to save seconds or minutes, I risk harm to my body.

A dear friend is suffering from a serious back injury, presumably the result of pushing through activities despite the warning signs of milder, chronic pain. I’m sobered by the realization that in my own haste, I too could potentially do harm.

Mindless speed, or deliberate action – it’s a choice to consider.


March 2014

Subscribe to Our Articles and Podcasts