If we are lucky, we will experience moments in life when the very core of who we are and what we are is affirmed. Amidst the days when we worry that we’re crazy and the nights when we are afraid that we are inherently wrong, there are bright spots of light and truth and we are suddenly more sure of ourselves than we have been in a very long time.
Everyone, I think, has these flashes of confirmation. Perhaps it happens at the kitchen table over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when your child beams at you, and you are suddenly certain that you made the right decision to stay home. Maybe you get your affirmation the day you walk across the stage to finally touch the degree you’ve spent years chasing. Your moment may come in a boardroom or a park or on a mountain top in a foreign land.
My moment came on the Las Vegas strip.
I was sitting alone at a table for two in the Vegas version of a Paris cafe. I’d waited for 30 minutes for that table because I had been assured that the very best place to have Sunday brunch in Vegas was the patio at Mon Ami Gabi. It was the first time in years that I’d agreed to wait for a table; my life is too busy to spend time waiting for the best seat in a restaurant. But that day I had no place to be and nothing but time and whim. I was determined to have the patience for indulgence.
I sipped a pink frothy cocktail that the waitress had recommended, a French martini they told me. I hadn’t even asked how much it cost before I ordered it. Never in my life had I ordered something without knowing the exact price, but I was committed to this experience. I took another sip and said a silent prayer of gratitude for my spontaneity and bubbly pink booze.
Beside my neat martini glass was a plate of “Country Style Pâté”, whole grain mustard, and toast. It was quite possibly the most lovely appetizer I’d ever been served.
Of course, I had no idea what to do with it.
“Excuse me?” I tried to discreetly get the attention of the man in the tuxedo who was arranging linens and flatware on the table beside me.
“Can I help you?” he asked from across the next table.
I leaned forward and waved him over, again trying to be discreet. He took a few steps towards me and I said, as quietly as I could, “ummm… I need help.” He cocked his head to the side and waited for me to continue. “I… uhh…” I pointed at the beautifully plated mystery meat in front of me, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to eat this.”
He smiled, but he didn’t laugh. He came closer and showed me how to spread the mustard on the toast and slice the pâté into thin strips to place on top of the mustard and toast. After I’d followed his instructions, I held up my wobbly stack for approval. He was still smiling as he nodded his head and waited for me to take a bite.
I did like. I liked very much, in fact, and I thanked him for his kindness. He returned to his flatware and I leaned back in my chair to savor the flavor of the moment. As if on cue, I heard the explosion of water and Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon” begin to play across the street. I turned to watch the fountain show at the Bellagio.
And there on the strip, with the taste of French martini and Country Style Pâté fresh in my mouth and Frank Sinatra crooning at me from across the street, I felt bliss.
It wasn’t just the music and the decadent food, or even the alcohol before dark. It was the culmination of a perfect weekend spent proving to myself that… that what, exactly?
That I can walk up to a stranger and look them in the eye and shake their hand, and not melt into a puddle of jitters and shame.
That I can smile and breathe and not be afraid in a crowd of strangers.
That I can be very much afraid and survive.
That I can go to a party completely alone and refuse to feel alone in a crowd.
That I am most alive when I am exploring a new place.
That I can make my way, I guess.
The weekend in Vegas was a constant obstacle course of insecurities, and I did not once retreat to my hotel room or lose myself in my iPhone. I stuck my chin out, pushed my shoulders back, and introduced myself to strangers over and over and over again. I walked up to people I admired and told them so. I danced when I wanted to dance and ate when I wanted to eat and learned what I wanted to learn. It was a weekend spent with the very best version of me.
And I liked her very, very much.