Oftentimes it is small incidents that call us back, and it is strange how things that would appear of zero relevence to an observer can be those that draw us back so forcibly as to cause tension, anxiety, and sometimes reactions that are simply emotionally violent.
Had there been a fly on the wall of my hotel room this afternoon (assuming it was a thinking fly, that could observe, process and reason) it would have heard a tremble in my voice, a hesitation, something that maybe sounded like confusion, and it most likely would have put that down to social awkwardness, and thought no more, and moved on.
I heard all those things in my own voice, but I know, as the speaker, that there was something up with where those words were coming from. They were coming from a place of deep discomfort. I was sincerely awkward, not quite embarrassed but getting there; I was mildly panicked, in the sense of trying to squirm away from the situation I was in.
I was accepting money.
How is it that I can loan money, or gift money, without a thought, but it is always, to some degree or other, a traumatising experience to accept it? The situation was this: I had been invited to speak at a conference in New York, and my understanding was that my travel expenses would be met. I took this to mean my flights and accommodation, but this morning, on my leaving, the woman who co-ordinated the event called my hotel room and wanted to know how much I had spent on food and transportation. How much had my taxi’s cost? How much had I spent on meals? I felt something rise up in me that could be best described as defensiveness. It didn’t matter, I told her. It wasn’t much. Forget about it.
I honestly didn’t know how much I’d spent on those things, and I still don’t know. I’d been in and out of several cabs and restaurants and I had never thought to keep receipts. I would have needed to eat anywhere, I reasoned to myself, as the woman tried to reimburse me. There was a need to push this money away, a sense of ‘please leave me alone’, and it was far from the first time that had happened.
When I put the phone down I began to question myself. Why had that been difficult for me? Why had it been so awkward any of the many other times it had happened? What was it about accepting money that made living in my very skin so squeamishly uncomfortable for me?
Bingo. There it was. Yes – I get it now.
Jesus… sometimes the answer is so obvious it makes the question ridiculous.