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In Search of Equanimity

by Sheree Kirby

I'm sitting at the bar at Chevy's sipping on a happy hour margarita while Costco outfits my minivan with 4 new tires next door. I'm feeling slightly indulgent, having dropped the kids at Grandma's. I should be updating that Excel program for work, or at the very least, filling a basket with a week's groceries – not filling myself with tequila and tortilla chips. But after a nasty front tire blowout the freeway, accompanied by a massive adrenaline surge and plunge, I can't bring myself to move, let alone think.

Besides, I find Luis, the bartender, somewhat mesmerizing. Not his looks. Those probably wouldn't have turned my head even back when I had hormones. It's his equanimity that fascinates. Here he is flying solo in a packed cantina, where drink demands are pelted at him like arrows at Little Big Horn. Four house margaritas…two no salt…one blended…three on the rocks…no make that four, but one straight up… an extra shot…corona long neck... To each he smiles and nods, racking glasses, whirring blenders, pouring from two bottles at once. No sweat dotting his brow, no creases of tension in his face. To top it off, he's not even particularly accurate. His return rate is high, around one in three including mine, which came heavily salted, despite my request otherwise. Still, a relaxed smile plays on his face.

I envy Luis for this. Given more than one order at once, my body would clench into a paralyzed ball, red-faced with eyes bulging -- like it does on harried school mornings when one daughter wants braids and the other, ringlets. This is not good for a person who has had cancer. I'm supposed to be calm, smelling the roses, enjoying my second chance.

Admittedly, I have made improvements. Instead of relaxing here with Luis, the old, pre-cancer me would surely be punching buttons on my phone attempting to reach the CEO of Michelin to report that his tires lasted only a measly 25,000 miles, a far cry from their guaranteed 85,000. After that, I would go to the gym and feverishly exercise away my anger at the automated Michelin secretary's unsatisfactory reply. But in the four years since my diagnosis, I have deliberately dumped all my killer boot camp exercise classes in favor of the more calming Pilates and yoga. Now, for each hour-long class, I am forced to remain focused on my breathing, not on my anger, or my dismal childhood, or my plan to control all of the kinks out of my future. For a full sixty minutes I live only in the moment.

Well, at least it's a step.

And yes, I do realize that I will have to take another 10 or 12 thousand more to catch up with Luis.

I can offer several excuses for the huge gulf between us, a few of which are worthy of at least a brief mention here. My husband for one: A man who cannot relax until all the dishes have been loaded, military style, washed, wiped and sequestered in the appropriate cabinets; a man who is compelled to pull his laundry out of the dryer before it stops spinning to prevent wrinkling; a man who makes sure all of the pencil tips in his desk are sharpened and facing west each evening.

All I can say is that it's a darned good thing he makes me laugh…

The Silicon Valley corporate lifestyle, however, does not evoke laughter, except maybe at its absurdity; nor is it, in any way, conducive to calm. Sure, we have many amenities – great weather, a beach over the hill, a world famous bay city less than an hour a way. The problem is that we have little or no time to enjoy them. Most of us are so totally technologically wired that we can never completely turn it off. If we did, we would not be able to complete in five days what took five weeks less than a generation ago. Then we'd be first on the block when it came to mergers, acquisitions, or younger/cheaper/foreign replacements.

I know, I know. If I don't like it, I could move. It's a good point. In theory at least. But for now, like Luis, my life and livelihood are here. Yet, of the two of us, Luis appears to know how to handle it, and I…well, I'm still flailing.

Just as I'm about to sip the last of my margarita, I see/hear a big ape of a guy bellowing at Luis. He can tell, he shouts, shoving the mug into Luis's face, that what he received is watered-down Coors, not the Dos Equis he'd ordered.

My first instinct is to push my stool back, stand up to my full 5'2" height and give that behemoth a piece of my mind. Can't he see that Luis has got his hands full? Can't he be patient? Why is he getting so stressed over a lousy beer?

Then I close my eyes and take a calming yoga breath. After all, if Luis can stand there and smile and nod while under immense stress, well, just maybe, I can too.