My Daring New York Escapade

It’s 2006, I’m forty-five years old, and my husband and I are empty nesters.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

I’ve always been drawn to quotes that both challenge and inspire me. This particular one has recently been cycling in my thoughts, like a mantra that I find myself reflecting on often. It plays like a melody that lightens my spirit, especially when I find myself weighed down with the burdens of daily life. It reminds me that life gives me miracles every day – I just have to stop and take a breath every now and then to notice.

I have lived in the same rural town in Nova Scotia all of my life. I appreciate the stillness and quiet that living on 21 acres of land can bring. 

We are only five minutes from the ocean. On blowy days, the sound of crashing waves on the rocks is calming for the soul. On those windy days, in particular, the distinctive scent of the ocean air feels fresh, clean and invigorating.

I enjoy the simplicity of our lives, although we have worked hard over the years.

My husband has been a lobster fisherman most of his adult life, working dutifully on the open ocean in a forty-five-foot boat. In mainly harsh and bitterly cold winters, he worked to catch a delicacy eaten worldwide. He also spent most summers off the coast swordfishing. It was a dangerous living but honest work that fed our family.

I’ve primarily been a stay-at-home mom to our two sons. I loved growing an abundance of organic fresh vegetables for our dinner plates every year. I spend time volunteering at our church. I took care of all the administration for our fishing business while also attending school to earn my GED, then a diploma in Ministry from Saint Xavier University. As a mom, I have many roles, including being a full-time cheerleader and driver for every concert, boy scout, soccer, baseball and hockey event.

I relished our time together as a family, especially when our boys were small.

Our sons are grown and on their own now, and my husband has sold his fishing boat. 

We were just kids when we got married at eighteen and twenty-one. We had to grow up fast. Now, we are both restless for change. It has been challenging at times, yet we are contented and happy together. We now find ourselves pondering what we could do next with our recently acquired freedom.

I have been searching for a Life Coach Certification program for a few months now. Nothing I found seemed to speak to me until recently when I finished reading Debbie Ford’s book, Dark Side of the Light Chasers. At the end of this book, I read that she had a Life Coach Certification course. I was captivated! Her book radically spoke to me, and I was intrigued to explore more.

I decided to call and find out the details of the training. I talked to a man and discovered I would be eligible. First, I must attend a Shadow Process prerequisite retreat – a three-day intensive with Debbie Ford at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. I registered for the retreat and proceeded to call Omega to ask how I could get to the Retreat Center from JFK Airport.

“Hello, I have just registered to come to Omega to attend the Shadow Process with Debbie Ford. Could you please help me with how to find transportation there from JFK?”.

“Sure, that is no problem whatsoever Miss, from the airport you take the bus to Penn Station, and there you take a train to Rhinebeck. When you arrive in Rhinebeck, take the shuttle here. Easy as can be.”

There is a delightfully cheery inflection in his voice as he shares this information, as though it’s as easy as taking a walk in my own backyard. I feel my heart start to beat faster in my chest. “What the Hell?” my thoughts are racing “bus, Penn Station, train, and shuttle? I politely say thank you and hang up and cry out loud, “HELL NO!” – I have only been on a plane twice in my life, never alone nor internationally, let alone on a bus, train, and shuttle by myself in New York! This was too much.

After receiving a pep talk from my hubby, I find myself a little more than a month later on my way. I am now on a plane heading to Toronto from Halifax.

As the plane lands at Toronto airport, this hefty piece of metal rattles as the landing gear hits the ground, shaking my body. I am still shaking as it rolls down the runway toward the boarding bridge. I now hear that the plane is running late; I have to hurry to the luggage carousel, grab my suitcase, and go through security again to catch my connecting flight to JFK!

“You have got to be kidding!” I softly say to myself.

I follow the arrows and signs to the carousel.

“Where is it? Where is it? Damn it! Where is my suitcase?” I am privately panicking inside, as my body still feels shaky. Finally, I see it coming around, but it’s hard to get through all these people.

“Excuse me, that’s my suitcase!” gently pushing past layers of people, I reach out to grab it just in time as it floats by me. 

I am rushing again now to find security. I chuckle at the people using the moving walkways, thinking, “How lazy is that?”. If you have ever been to our small Halifax airport, you will understand my ignorance.

As I am losing my breath, running as fast as I can, I jump on. “Oh, that’s why,” I grin and think sheepishly. I’m finally in a long line at security where an agent fast-tracked us through. I have 15 minutes to get to my gate. Now I have to run again; “Where is the end of this damn airport?” I think to myself. I arrive just as they are boarding the last passengers. My heart is pumping out of my chest; I am out of breath, and I fall into my seat exhausted.

Thankfully, the flight is uneventful. I have mixed feelings of panic and excitement at the announcement we will be landing at JFK soon. My thoughts wander while the steward’s voice fades to the background as I imagine stories about my adventure ahead. The next thing I know, my body is being shaken again by the sudden jerk of the plane landing.

I exit the plane to go through customs. I am now in line, and a 6ft, 6in huge man with bulging biceps and a stare that would scare the piss out of anyone comes toward me and stands towering over me. In a demanding voice, he says, “Do you have your declaration form, ma’am?”

“Oh shit!” I say to myself. “My what Sir?” Now with a slightly louder voice, “Do you have anything to declare?”. I am visibly shaking by now, so he bends over and snatches this paper out of my boarding pass folder. I guess this is the part I missed while daydreaming on the plane.

“This needs to be filled out now.” He puts it in my hand, and my stomach is flip-flopping, “I don’t have a pen, Sir.” He is visibly not amused but forcefully grabs a pen from his shirt pocket and passes it to me. I fill it out. 

As I make my way through customs, another not-so-huge, more relaxed man comes over and asks one other person and me to step aside. OK, now I am feeling faint! 

“This is just routine ma’am,” as he proceeds to go through every inch of my luggage, pulling all of my clothes out. I think to myself, “Do I look like a criminal, for God’s sake!” – I am sure at this point I look like a deer in headlights. 

I’m finally cleared in customs, I realize I am running late to catch the bus, so I run outside to find the station. There are so many people here! The temperature outside is 98F; everyone is hot, sticky and understandably moody. I ask a woman for directions; she rolls her eyes and turns the other way with a loud sigh. Yikes, I won’t do that again. The street noises are loud, and the smell of gasoline and diesel infuses my sinus cavities. My body is beyond tired at this point, but I rally; I have no choice. As I drag my suitcase and carry my backpack, I feel tears welling up in my eyes again.

I come to the bus station just in time to see the bus leave without me; tears start to run down my cheeks. It means I will miss the train at Penn and then, in turn, the shuttle at Rhinebeck to Omega. Just then, a short, stout middle-aged man with the first smile I’ve seen since I landed comes over and “kindly” offers his yellow taxi cab to take me to Penn Station.

“But I only have forty minutes to get there to catch my train.”, I whimper, trying hard to suck it up. The taxi driver smiles again, “No problem at all ma’am, I can get you there in thirty minutes.”. 

So, instead of waiting for the next bus that would cost me fifteen dollars, I am now taking a taxi costing me fifty – but I don’t care if it means I catch the train!

I have now been in this f**king taxi for over an hour, which is stuck in gridlock on the 2089-metre-long Manhattan bridge, with no air-conditioner. The door handles of this car are inches away from the vehicles in the next lane on both sides. I could not open a door if I wanted to. Did I mention I am nervous on bridges? I am feeling claustrophobic at this point, fighting a panic attack with deep breaths. With each breath, I inhale a combination of chemical cleaners, locker room sweat and a hint of vomit. I don’t dare drink any water. Sweat dripping down my face, I am trying my best to hold back the tears again. 

Finally, we are at Penn Station; I pass him the money and climb out of the taxi. As I enter this thunderously tall colossal building bustling with crowds of people, I read that it serves over 500,000 people a day! I feel overwhelmed and woozy. At this point, I am famished, but I need to find a washroom first. I follow the signs to the restrooms. When I go around the corner, my nose is assaulted again with a disgusting scent of urine and feces, and I start to gag. Regardless, I have no choice; I drag my suitcase and backpack into the stall, and there for the first time, holding my breath as long as I can between inhales, I stand and pee in a toilet. Then I rush out, washing my hands with lots of hand sanitizer outside where I can breathe again without gagging. 

Next, I call Omega and tell them my dilemma. This time the man’s soft, irritatingly delightful voice pisses me off, but I remain polite, despite my anxiety rising. 

“No problem at all, in two hours, we have a bus that will take you right here; you can catch it at the corner of 34th street. Take a walk around the city in the meantime, and enjoy.” 

“Really, again are you f**king kidding me?” I think to myself, but I quietly say, “Thank you.”

I am feeling the effects of the day in my body. I am weak and dehydrated. I see a little coffee shop and order a sandwich and water. I have not eaten in hours, so I quickly take a bite; damn, this is the best sandwich I have ever tasted! It is a creamy egg salad with just the right amount of salt, pepper, onions and celery and a hint of relish on the most amazing fresh whole grain Kaiser roll. I am going to savour every morsel. However, I only sip on the water, for I do not want to straddle that toilet again.

Now, I start to feel nervous again about how the hell I am going to find 34th street. I once again begin dragging my suitcase looking for signs, for by this time, I have learned not to ask people here for directions. As I walk outside along the sidewalks, I look up and realize there is no skyline. The buildings are so tall that the only blue I can see is the small space between buildings at the rooflines. I cannot even see the sun. It’s very disorientating. I am used to the expansive skies of my Nova Scotia home, where you can see the skyline for miles, see the sun all day, and witness some of the most exquisite sunrises and sunsets. I feel a slight pang of missing home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I walk, I can’t help but observe people. So many interesting faces, but I notice one similarity in most of them: each person seems alone and in a protective bubble – aloof and disconnected from the world around them, even though they are sometimes shoulder to shoulder. They have no smiles, just intense blank stares. It feels so foreign to me, somewhat suffocating and even a bit lonely. I have met some very dear New Yorkers in my life and know not everyone is always like this, but somehow here crammed altogether on the streets, these people seem unreachable.

Luckily, I see the signs to the corner of 34th street; as I arrive, I join many others waiting.

Now I am feeling sick; I feel very weak and have a sweltering headache. I know these are signs of dehydration, and I am scared now. I don’t t want to drink water, for I have no idea how far the nearest washroom would be. I look around and scan all the faces. I want to tell someone who I am if I faint (says the naïve woman from Nova Scotia in me). I whisper a small prayer for guidance, then again gaze around at the dozens of people. They all have the same dull bone-weary look in their eyes that says -leave me alone. I make eye contact with a woman in a shaded corner, and she smiles back at me; her eyes look genuine and kind. That is all I need and go over to her like a bee to honey. 

Amazingly, Susan from Brooklyn is going to Omega too. I explain my circumstances.

Susan chuckles and replies, “Girl, that taxi driver saw you coming cuz he damn well knew that gridlock happens at this time every day.”

Then she hands me a bottle of water and gives me two cookies as we sit down in the shade. She assures me that she will bring me to a nearby washroom as soon as I feel better, for we have plenty of time. I cringe and raise my eyebrows as Susan explains: if there is no available parking spot on the corner when the bus arrives, it will wait around the next street corner. The “delightful” gentleman from Omega forgot that tidbit of information. The bus is overdue, so I follow Susan around to the next street corner and there it is; I breathe a sigh of relief as we board. We sit together, my angel from Brooklyn. A unique, funny, kind-hearted, hard-as-nails, take-charge woman. I chuckled each time she passed people around us speaking too loud on their cell phones little cards that say, “get off your f**king cell phone!”

We arrive at Omega with no time to spare. I have 30 minutes to register, get to my cabin before the doors of the retreat hall are closed; the brochure was very clear, “be on time.” I catch a ride on a fast and silent electric cart to my cabin. My clothes are soaked with sweat and dirt. I take a quick cool shower, run to the hall, and sit down with 5 minutes to spare. 

I look around me; the room is buzzing with anticipation, nervous laughter, and excitement. Most everyone seems to be with someone they know. I am among over 100 people, all complete strangers at this point. My body aching with the stress of the day, yet a sense of satisfaction and peace settles inside. I did it; I got here. I reflect on the day; I realize that many small miracles were among today’s chaos and fear. Then I pick up the journal for the weekend, and on the front page, it reads:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

and I know this is right where I am supposed to be.

………….

As it turned out, over the next three years of training, I travelled back and forth to San Diego for in-person intensives with Debbie Ford a few times, earning three certifications. I was no longer terrified of travelling alone. I met some of the most interesting, loving, kind, unique people there. I am honoured to say some are still dear friends today. Those years were some of the most transformational extraordinary times of my life. 

With gratitude and sometimes hindsight, I can still discover many daily miracles in my life. I forget some days, other times, for long periods, but nonetheless, they are always there when I look, no matter what life throws at me. The greatest miracle of all is: I still wake up every morning, I have a family and friends I love, and I still live in a beautiful little town in Nova Scotia that I call home.

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4 Responses to My Daring New York Escapade

  1. Sharon J Doyle says:

    Joyce
    What a great story! Hilarious at times. Always honest. Thank you! ❤️

  2. Dianne Murray says:

    Thought I’d read this one , after our phone chat. I never really knew this story about you. I could almost see everything happening. Like a movie. Great blog.

  3. Thank you, Dianne, it was wonderful reliving that day and seeing just how many obstacles I overcame to get there.

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