Storytelling at Work
August 11, 2017
Moses, Jesus, Jonah, and Me on The Toledo On-Ramp

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The spiritual literature of Planet Earth is full of stories that track the trials and tribulations of earnest souls on the path to God. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale. Like Moses in the desert. Like Jesus on the Cross. Every culture has their own, just like they have their own creation myths and favorite cheese. Indeed, the heroes and heroines of these soul-shaping stories have, in time, become a kind of code for the hard-to-describe qualities that define what it means to be an evolving human being -- the kind of stories we tell our kids whenever we want to impress on them something timeless and profound.

Good. We need stories. We need memorable examples of what's possible. What we don't need, however, is the assumption that the stories which have made it to the scriptures are the only ones worth telling. They're not. Each of us, in our own curious way, has had similar experiences -- modern-day versions of the archetypal challenges that try men's and women's souls. Like the time, for example, as a hitchhiker, I stood on the on ramp to I-70, in Toledo, Ohio, for ten hours, without a ride -- just the hot sun overhead and the creeping sense that God, if there WAS a God, didn't really like me all that much.

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What I didn't understand at the time was that there was a very divine choreography going on -- one that transcended my pinhole view of life, myself, and the universe.

The day started off quite innocently enough, in Montreal -- 1,729 miles from where I lived, me listening, along with 3,000 other people, to a very inspiring spiritual Master speak about his message of peace. It was a good day, a very good day, a day that filled me with joy and gratitude. After a good night's sleep in a modestly priced hotel, I began the long journey home, hitchhiking back to Colorado, with my good friend, Danny.

Three minutes was all it took for us to get our first ride. We simply stuck out our thumbs and entered a green Toyota, a pleasant young salesman behind the wheel. He shook our hands. He talked about his work. He gave us each a tuna on rye. Badadoom. Badabing. There WAS a God! Five hundred and sixty nine miles later, just outside of Toledo, our paths parted and our first ride of the day bid us a fond adieu.

The on ramp to the interstate was, shall I say, rather unexceptional. No movie was going to be made there that day, no marriage proposals made. Just two young, God-intoxicated men with their thumbs out, trying to get home before their money ran out.

One hour passed. Then another. Then another after that. Not a single car stopped or even slowed down. Many other hitchhikers came and went. But not us. We just stood there. If this was a junior high school dance, we were the fat girls with braces.

"Yo, Danny," I blurted, you know what this reminds me of?"

"No, what?" Danny said.

"Siddhartha."

"Herman Hesse's Siddartha?" he responded.

"Yes! Herman Hesse's Siddhartha."

"Really?" Danny replied. "And why is that?"

"Because," I replied, "Siddhartha once said that there were three things he had learned, in life, that had saved his butt. First, he could fast. Second, he could wait. And, third, he could meditate. So today, my good friend, we get to practice 1/3 of Siddhartha’s yoga -- WAITING. How cool is that?"

Another hour passed. Then another. Then another after that. If you are counting, dear reader, we are now in our sixth hour without a ride on the Toledo on ramp. Six.

One thing was becoming clear: Whatever Danny and I were doing wasn't working. So we decided it was time to experiment. First, Danny stood and I sat. Then I stood and Danny sat. Then we made a sign with "Denver or Bust" on it. Then we pretended to pray. Then Danny hoisted me up on his shoulders. Then I hoisted him on mine. Nothing worked.

If this was a coming-of-age movie, all our efforts would have seemed quite funny, especially the way the Director would have speeded up the film to give a kind of Charlie Chaplin-esque quality to it. But this wasn't a coming of age movie. There was no Director, no film crew, no catering tent. There was nothing except the two of us and the mid-afternoon sun shimmering off of the burning concrete, making everything seem vaguely like a mirage.

While Danny continued fixing his gaze on the oncoming cars, I found myself looking up at the sky and talking to myself. Was I being punished? Had I done something wrong in a previous lifetime? Was there some kind of lesson I needed to learn?

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Shooting a glance at Danny, it suddenly dawned on me that HE was probably the reason why we weren't getting a ride. In fact, the more I looked at Danny, the clearer it became that there... was... something... very off about him. While I couldn't quite put my finger on it, there was something about my so-called friend that was quite troubling...weird... strange.

"Danny," I said. "It's just not happening, bro. Let's check into a motel and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is another day."

And so we did. And so it was. Thursday, October 4th was definitely another day. Fueled by bad motel muffins and even worse coffee, we made our way to the now very familiar I-70 on ramp and took our positions, thumbs pointing West.

Nobody stopped. Nobody slowed down. Nobody.

"I wonder if this is what Moses was feeling in the desert," I began thinking to myself. True, our missions were different -- him trying to get to the promised land, me trying to get to Denver.. and yet.. might it be not true that our inner experiences weren't all that different -- our demons, our doubts, our dreams?

It was just about this time, that Danny and I realized that it probably wasn't such a good idea for the two of us to be hitching together anymore -- that the sight of two young men standing by the side of the road, might just seem a bit threatening to oncoming motorists. Like maybe... we had... just escaped from a maximum security prison and were just about to steal their car.

So we split up.

Ten minutes later a car stops and Danny gets in, waving goodbye, with a shit-eating grin on his face. I wave back, newly certain my luck was just about to change. It didn't I just stood there, now a solo act. My feet hurt. My head hurt. My eyes hurt. This wasn't funny anymore. OK? "Look, here's the deal, God, or whatever name you are going by these days. I NEED A RIDE BACK HOME! DO YOU HEAR ME? I NEED A RIDE. Is that too much to ask? Is it?"

And then? Like some kind of astral Clint Eastwood emerging from a dream, I see a car slow down and stop. Lo, I say unto you, the car stops. The.. car.. stops. It stops. As in not moving anywhere. Stops. Seven feet away from me. Or maybe eight. A late model Chevy it is and, behind the wheel, a very attractive young woman. She is smiling, beckoning me to enter, pointing to the empty seat next to her.

She extends her hand and tells me her name is Lisa and, just like that, we are off. She offers me some water. She turns the music up. We talk. Fifteen minutes later, I see Danny standing by the side of the road. "STOP!" I blurt. "That's Danny. That's my friend. Danny. Stop!"

Danny gets it and gives me a high five. We ask her where she's going.

"Driving west," she says, "looking for love."

That's our cue. Having just spent two days listening to the most inspiring human being we had ever encountered, Danny and I let it rip, regaling her with all kinds of stories of the man we had traveled cross-country to see. His message. What drew us to him in the first place. And how we felt in his presence.

Entranced, Lisa asks us to keep on talking. We do. Then she asks us where we're going.

"Denver, Colorado," we say.

"Great," she replies."I'll take you there."

And so she does. Right to our front doors. 23 hours and 1,269 miles later.

By the time we got home, we had told her just about every story we knew about love, the purpose of life, and the teacher, back in Montreal, we had just seen. Lisa stayed in Denver for a month or so. There, she read everything she could find about the man we had told her about for 23 hours. There, she watched every video of him she could get a hold of. At the end of the month, she decided to become his student and receive the gift he called "Knowledge," her long journey West, looking for love, fulfilled.

COMMENTARY:

Back in the the 15th century, it was Copernicus, the savvy Polish astronomer and mathematician, who first disavowed humanity of its long-held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, replacing it, instead, with the sun.

Copernicus, a man after whom very few children are named, somehow knew that his fellow human being's construct of reality was seriously flawed -- that the center of things was not our planet, but the star around which our planet revolved. And while many of us post-Copernican homo sapiens have long ago come to agree with him that the Earth is not the center of creation, we have not always understood the psychological correlative of that construct -- that our so-called "selves" are not the center of the universe either -- and that we, in fact are not always the stars of our own movies.

What I experienced, standing on that Toledo on ramp for ten hours many years ago, was a direct result of the way in which I had positioned myself in space and time -- me the center of my self-invented universe. The attachment to my desire to get back home in a time I had conceived of as "reasonable" was the belly of the whale that swallowed me whole.

The more my need to get back home was thwarted by unresponsive motorists, the more I morphed from a deeply spiritual being to "Oh, Lord, why hast thou forsaken me." My thoughts and feelings all took shape in response to the way in which I had constructed reality. Producer and Director of my own movie, I now had all the proof I needed to cast God as the boogeyman, Danny as a loser, and my own rapidly dissolving self as a victim of some kind of strange karma. What I didn't realize at the time was that even though I had had cast myself as the star of my own movie, I was also the extra in someone else's -- and that someone else -- Lisa, had a story line that was way more compelling than mine.

Her need to "find love" and, ultimately her spiritual Master, was the major plot of the story I had found myself in. My need to get back to Denver was only a sub-plot. Not once during my dark night of the soul on that Toledo on ramp did it ever dawn on me that the so-called reason why no one had picked us up was due to the fact that there was a woman, 10 hours away in Philadelphia, who was just beginning her journey West towards love. The choreography was perfect, even if it took her 10 hours to get across the stage to the precise location where we, the other actors stood, staring at the sky, waiting for our cue.

Time? You think you have it but, actually, it has you. On any given day none of us have the slightest clue about how long anything will take. Just because you have a goal, desire, or agenda doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen. And the absence of it happening doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong with you, that you're the victim of karma or need to more diligently visualize the outcomes you want. Life is a play. You are in it. Sometimes you're hero. Sometimes you're the extra. Your choice? To enjoy the ride or not. Even if the ride doesn't come.

FOOD FOR BEYOND THOUGHT: What project of yours is taking longer than you imagined it would take? What lessons or learnings might be in it for you?

MitchDitkoff.com
Excerpted from my forthcoming book
A related story about time

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at August 11, 2017 01:16 PM

Comments

Good story Mitch and yes, we're in a play with a myriad of moving parts, we're each the lead and each the supporting cast. It has no beginning or end (although I do)...and is a pretty wonderful opportunity.

I also like any story that finds a way to insert Copernicus...nice one!

Posted by: gary-canuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 11, 2017 06:33 PM

Hey Mitch: This is great! Funny! Awe Inspiring! I did plenty of hitching in the 70's - including a cross-county Berkeley, CA to New Jersey trip - one long stoned ride with two wild young intellectual, creative young men from middle of Kansas (Hays) on I-70 took me to my parents' front door on Cyprus Ave, Bricktown, where I was living with them then - so I can relate very well to your 10-hour exile on the Toledo on-ramp to I-70. Thanks for writing this! I loved the Commentary! All excellent! Jono bhutu

Posted by: Jon Lloyd [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 8, 2017 03:34 PM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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