Many Arizona residents go to Mexico for dental work because of the dramatic difference in cost. Little did I know what awaited me on my semi-annual dental trip across the border! The day I made the four and a half hour drive to Yuma and then into Mexico I had stomach cramps and mild diarrhea. It wasn’t bad enough not to go and I had put off the trip twice now, so I had to make the journey.
On the way I was listening to an interview on NPR with Ben Sherwood who wrote a book called “The Survivors Club.” Ben mentioned that all the survivors he interviewed had one thing in common–there was a moment when they “hugged the monster”–meaning they embraced what they feared most. At the time I thought, “Cool way of looking at it.” I didn’t realize, in a matter of hours, I would be hugging a monster! On the drive I stopped in a few mini-marts looking for club soda that I knew would help the cramps that had gotten a little worse–no luck. Even though I didn’t feel well I felt safe inside the car, so I kept going.
I got to the border crossing, parked the car and walked the 100 meters across. I figured I would be 45 minutes tops and get back across and try to feel better. As I went by customs I noticed there was a small line of 20 people. This surprised me because on the last trip there had not been any line. Then I remembered it was winter now as opposed to summer, so there were probably more “snowbirds.”
The dentist’s office was only a few blocks in and it was just a 5-minute wait until he could see me–cool! The first thing he said to me was, “I am surprised you came at this time of the day with the line.” I replied, “Oh, yeah, I saw the line.” He looked at me a little funny and shrugged. He didn’t say anything more about it and we finished a half hour later (saving about $1000!) and I walked briskly up the street anxious to get to the car and head back.
Now before I tell you what happened next, let me describe one of my big monsters (which I have worked on, but I guess not enough). It’s a fear of getting stuck some place sick–maybe you can relate! Many years ago I got stuck really sick in a few places where I couldn’t get help. Even though I had come a long way, that fear of feeling helpless was still a little inside of me. And don’t forget, I’m a cancer survivor–going through both chemo and radiation (alone); so like many survivors, I’ve seen some pretty dark places around illness. But this is one subtle aspect I still had blocks around.
To continue: I saw the line of twenty people waiting to cross the border up ahead and as I got closer I noticed it curled around the corner. I was thinking, “Oh man, I am going to have to wait maybe 10 minutes, what a pain.” I rounded the corner to get in line and in front of me stood, literally, a thousand people waiting in line, stretching maybe a mile! I looked again, thinking it had to be a line for something else–I’m not sure what–I just simply couldn’t believe it. I will tell you, brothers and sisters, in that moment something inside of me broke. I felt lost, alone, and scared. I thought this just can’t be — I couldn’t accept it. I have spent years avoiding this kind of moment. I could feel the cramping in my gut get worse.
I looked up and down the line of people who seemed relaxed and accepting of the wait. This seemed very strange to me. Why weren’t they outraged? I was standing there looking at one of my greatest fears–being stuck some place sick–the monster! And when fear hits, you know the need to go gets greater! Of course, I was afraid I might have an accident–then what do I do!
I tried to pull it together and think of how I could get around this: I could approach a border patrol officer and say I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t think I could stand in line. But something inside me felt that might not be wise given the tension around border crossings these days–and also I looked a little straggly, which might not be good. There was some other unknown reason I didn’t do this (it didn’t become apparent until later). Then I thought I could palm a twenty and approach someone at the front and say, “Hey, Bro, thanks for saving my place,” while flashing the money at them. Again, the same thing; I just didn’t feel the motivation to try that.
Not knowing what else to do I started to walk back to the end of the line. I remember thinking something will happen to save me before I get to the end. The line just kept going on and on! Same thoughts–this just isn’t possible. It was five people across–and when I say a thousand people, I am not exaggerating!
I arrive at the end of the line and cue up–like everyone else–another clue to future realizations. It occurs to me I need to do something to distract myself from feeling sick–so I thought, I have to get charming and talk to the people standing around me. I start chatting to two older women in their mid-sixties standing next to me (they were friends).
They were very nice and told me they were snowbirds. One woman said she lived in an 8 x 40 cell (motor home) with the devil (husband); the other, in a fifth-wheel with a similar devil! I chuckled inside, thinking even in Mexico I can’t seem to get away from women in unhappy marriages (in my practice I seem to attract a lot of wonderful women with similar issues)! I ask them what they are doing in Mexico. “Oh, we just come across to shop once a week, tequila is much cheaper over here.” I said, “Did you know about the line?” She said, “Sure!” I query them as to how long the wait is. “About two hours!” OMG, I think; I won’t make it. Fear runs through me again. I ask them if they could save my place, I need to use a rest room.
It takes a while but I finally find one. I buy some water and head back, worrying how I am going to spot the two women amidst the thousand people. As I approach the line, they wave–thank God! I joked to them, “You knew I might not see you?” They nod and smile–obviously veterans of “the line”! Still feeling queasy I start talking again, letting the funny Greg show up. They tell me some great stories about traveling around the country and life on the road.
As the line moves ahead little by little, Mexican women mill around us selling gum and other little things. I think I need all the good karma I can get and hand them a dollar each when they approach. Incredibly, every time I do, within a minute the line takes a big jump! Wild! Then I guess the word gets out and suddenly there are lots of beautiful little Mexican women asking me for money! I go through all my singles and tell them I’m tapped. Then I think, what the hell, and unwrap some of the gum they’d given me and pop it in my mouth. I don’t think I have chewed gum for 15 years! It tasted pretty good.
By this time my two line-mates and I have become fast friends and we are yukking it up and laughing. Even though I still feel sick, I think to myself, you’re making it, brother, you’re making it. I ask them, still not quite believing it, “You knew you were going to wait in line for two hours?” They nod, a strange sort of pride on their faces. The first of many realizations that day occurs to me: these wonderful women (who I later refer to as my “line-angels”) are in a separate reality from me–truly! I get this principle once again in a deeper way.
As I stood there enjoying the gum, it dawns on me why I didn’t try to talk my way across the border or hand someone money–that was an old behavior from “back in the day” and when I was growing up, and I just wasn’t that person anymore. It was a sense of self-importance–that I’m not like everyone else–I don’t have to stand in line! I was suddenly grateful that I naturally didn’t make those old choices.
I looked around at the other people in line and I noticed a few interesting things: I was probably the youngest person there–they were mostly seniors and everyone truly did appear accepting of the situation. I heard no one complaining and registered that I hadn’t heard anyone complain in the hour and a half I had waited thus far. I wondered if that would’ve been the case with a younger crowd. Perhaps with age comes acceptance and patience. I really absorbed their powerful modeling. I also noticed that I didn’t see anyone smoking. I am not sure what this means but I thought it interesting. Also, I didn’t see any couple getting into it or purposely not talking to each other. Maybe the unity of the situation creates these phenomena–something to consider.
My two line-angels and I finally round the corner and are only a matter of thirty yards from crossing over. I can’t quite believe I’ve done it. I shake my head in gratitude. I turn to my new friends and tell them the bottom truth: “I wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t sure I could handle this, but talking with the both of you, and your friendliness, really made the difference. I don’t think I could have made it without you. You are my line-angels!” They laugh and tell me they were happy they could help.
I enter the customs trailer, show my passport and within seconds I am across! I say goodbye to my angels and head to the car that I have never been so glad to see! I check the time on my cell phone–we waited in the line for 2 hours and 10 minutes. Wow! I never would have believed that I could have done that, feeling as sick as I did. I found a deeper strength in me that I didn’t know I had. I hugged the monster! Sometimes, brothers and sisters, the way to get over something is to meet it head-on. It may be scary–even terrifying. But just like me–you can do it.
As I thought about writing this story over the last few months, I felt there was an important underlying message I hoped to communicate–that even spiritual teachers have their fears! And it’s ok to have fears–to not judge them or think you failed or you’re not getting “it.”
This was the first of a number of “hugging the monster” events since that day. So, stay tuned! I invite any emails of your own moments of facing your fears.
I thank my teachers and NPR for helping me that day. And my two line-angels!