The fateful, life-changing moment that I saw you occurred as I was driving home during rush hour on one of the busiest streets in our town. The roads were packed with weary commuters moving along at a frustrating crawl. The sky was gray and tired, spitting heavy sleet intermittently like an insulted camel. And then, out of nowhere, there you were, like a bedraggled ray of sunshine in the dreary landscape. You were shoveling snow on the sidewalk, pausing every once in a while to take a long and apparently very satisfying drag from your cigarette. It was late in the afternoon, yet you wore oversized Hello Kitty pajama pants and bright pink fuzzy slippers. Your hair was frazzled and barely hanging onto a pony tail. You took no notice as those of us in our cars gawked and judged. Your lazy stance and casual, half-hearted shoveling exuded an air of "I just don't give a crap what you think about me. I am perfectly content with who I am in this moment, and what are you going to do about it, huh?"
Dear lady, dear wonderful, pajama-clad lady, I would like to thank you. In that moment I realized just how much of my life I live in fear of the opinions of others. From the moment I wake to the moment I crash in exhaustion at the end of the day, I care. I care about how I look, I care about what others think of me, I care that what I say will offend or be too blunt. I care, I care, I care. Your marked indifference to the opinions of...well, anyone...was inspirational. You, in all your frumpled glory, have changed me.
Because of you, I actually purchased those leopard-print footed pajamas with the pink cuffs, whereas before, I would have merely paused by the deliciously soft yet absurd pajamas and thought to myself, "You know how comfortable those would be? If I didn't care about what people thought about me, I would love to just lounge around in those all day." But because of you, dear pajama-bosom-buddy (for I consider you this now), instead of merely stroking the pajamas with longing, I thought to myself, "I'm going to get these! And wear them! And not care! I know I'm a grown woman and wearing any form of onesies is bizarre and awkward, but so what? They're comfy and soft, and will make me happy." And I so I bought them. And I wear them quite often, indifferent to the teasings of my husband and the mockery of the internet.
It is not only in embracing ridiculous and unflattering pajamas that I have taken on this new care-free attitude. I sing out loud with earbuds in, sometimes in public. I make faces when the emotion moves me. I freely laugh at my own jokes, without caring if anyone else thinks they are funny. I blow my nose vociferously and effectively, instead of daintily. I gesticulate even more vehemently when my students make fun of my hand gestures. I take larger, more careless bites of salad, without the fear of lettuce dangle or of getting ranch dressing on my face. I openly seek out cat videos on YouTube, and don't hide my tears while watching Animal Odd Couples. I voice contrary opinions more often. I frequently sprinkle my conversation with archaic phrases like "that sticks in my craw," and "hold your horses," tossing in sci-fi tokens like "May the force be with you," and "So say we all." I like to wear Crocs--with socks on--to go get the mail and I take the trash to the curb in my bathrobe. I only socialize when I want to. I have embraced my love of Tom Cruise action movies. I ask drive through workers for extra ketchup, and if they don't give me enough, I give them a lecture on the proper french-fry-to-ketchup ratio. I tell anyone I can that I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books or seen the movies. And there's oh, so much more. Let me tell you, it's liberating.
Now, you might ask yourself, "Really? All of that because of me?" And my answer is, well, yes, maybe even if you were just the final nudge that pushed me over the cliff. Maybe I had been pondering jumping into the exhilarating world of not caring for some time, and you were the last and final push I needed to take the plunge. And for that, dear, sweet, random lady who was shoveling snow in her pajamas on that fateful day, I thank you.
A grateful bystander