The coldest feet

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For the past few years, I’ve had one toe that goes numb every winter. It’s the one next to my pinky toe on my right foot – the little piggy that had none, as the English rhyme goes. It’s true that my toe seems to have none – circulation, that is.

Two days ago, I sat on a metal table, dressed in a tent-like cotton gown as I waited for my doctor to complete my pre-Scotland physical. I wiggled my toes, trying to remember which was the numb one so that I could mention it, what shots I needed to ask about, how quickly Costco could fill a prescription, running through the list of questions I had to ask at the bank later that day, on and on, a rambling to do list where every item felt vital and time was running short. A dash of anxiety, a splash of excitement, stirring thoughts that jumble forgetfulness and memory. It’s a recipe I’m familiar with.

But for maybe the first time in my life of Type A high achieving, a strange thought occurred to me.

What if I didn’t go?

Barely suppressed in a corner of my mind, angry thoughts shouted back. Tuition had been paid, plane ticket bought, people were depending on me! But for a fleeting second, I saw myself spending the rest of the week at home, alternately watching Fringe in bed while my dog slept on my feet and diving into the river with Billy, before making the two hour drive to Charlottesville and moving into my sorority house for another normal, routine semester at UVa.

Cold feet aren’t always the result of poor circulation.

What is interesting about this to me is that I don’t remember anything in my disembarkation meetings at UVa last spring so much as mentioned cold feet in the days before a trip. We had to complete a long online lesson about the possible emotional impact of adjusting to a new place and our later reintroduction back into UVa – lessons that seemed rather self-explanatory to me – but nowhere did anyone look me in the eye and, anticipating the moment when I would freeze up and want to turn back, tell me that this moment is to be expected.

Maybe feeling the chill of cold feet is just too obvious to mention, but it’s a curious phenomenon. Why would anyone freeze before a thrilling, wonderful event that has been carefully planned for months, years even? We’ve all seen movie scenes about this – Up in the Air, a favorite of mine, comes to mind:

At risk of making a huge generalization, I think we know what tends to trigger cold feet: dwelling on a big commitment that will directly lead to countless changes in daily life. It’s definitely not a generalization to say that change is really difficult and scary, from the simplest things like switching brands of floss (if you’ve ever used CVS-brand floss, you know what a difference this makes) to much bigger things like a move, a marriage, a new job or the loss of an old one. 

What I’ve come to appreciate the most is that life rarely offers a clear roadmap. I’m a planner who likes to have a clear schedule in mind; anything that deviated used to derail me. But these days, I’m learning how to be more flexible and less stressed. Other than my passport, there’s going to be nothing in my luggage that I can’t easily replace. Keeping this in mind is liberating. Maybe these realizations are trite and obvious, but it’s one thing to know them and another to live them. I know that now.

The adventure really begins tonight when I pick Janet up from the train station, but I wanted to slip a post in before things get too hectic. I’ll be offline for the next week and a half, but as soon as I’m set up with wifi and a few free hours, I’ll be back with stories to tell. By then, I will have accumulated dozens of scribbled pages in my journal and lots of photos from the Highlands, new experiences and perspectives. Cold feet or not, things are about to change.

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