I stepped onto the train platform and felt for the strap of my handbag.
My rucksack was there. The present for my friend Heather was there. My tube ticket was there. Where was my handbag?
My handbag was gone.
I'd travelled early that morning from Malvern to Paddington, and taken the tube to Charing Cross on the way to my psychotherapy supervision training. I was half an hour away from the Tibetan Buddhist centre where the training would take place. Without my handbag.
I went into action mode. I ran after the disappearing tube to see if I'd left it on my seat - nothing. I walked quickly to find a tube employee - who sent me to the mainline station, who sent me to lost luggage, who said I'd have to call Paddington lost luggage. As I walked I racked my brains. Could I remember taking my handbag from the first train? I would rather it had been stolen, to save my embarrassment, but I had a horrible feeling...
As I walked from place to place, I was counting the loss. £160 in cash. My phone & all those numbers. My Kindle. My iPod. My bank cards, driving license, all the cards in my wallet. My £70 train ticket home & travelcards for the weekend. My house keys. My filofax, which contained my entire life - all my client appointments, all my addresses, my schedule for the year. Gone.
I asked the train staff if they could call Paddington for me - I had no money and no phone. My eyes pleaded with them. They said they couldn't help me. At this point, I realised that I had a choice. I was feeling more and more panicky. I could either burst into tears, schlep back to Paddington, cancel the weekend's training & go home with my tail between my legs. Or I could take one step at a time and go forwards. I went forwards. I carried on to my destination.
I arrived at my training (late) and announced to the group that I'd had a disaster. They were all wonderful. The centre director looked up numbers for me on his computer (Paddington lost property, my bank to cancel cards...), the course leader leant me money for lunch, my husband got in contact with Heather to warn her I was uncontactable, I hogged the phone during the breaks and during lunch.
It wasn't a great day. I felt waves of panic, anger, feeling utterly stupid, fear of the unknown, despair. People kept saying I was dealing with it all ultra-calmly, and I wondered if I was in shock.
I guess a Buddhist centre is a good place to practice non-attachment, and here was my big opportunity...
I kept working with the feelings as they arose. I thought 'one step at a time' or 'it's only money and inconvenience, nobody is ill' or simply 'let go'. My gaze kept returning to the huge shrine in the room we were working in, and the three big golden Buddhas. I allowed myself to feel supported by the universe. I'd be looked after, one way or another. I had faith.
By the time I stood under the clock at Waterloo station, waiting for my friend Heather, I felt better than 'OK'. I felt good. I had truly given up on getting back the contents of my handbag. I thought they might recover my filofax, if I was lucky. I had let go.
As I waited, a man approached me.
"Are you Fiona?"
"I'm Pete. We've got your bag."
They'd travelled from Malvern that morning. They'd seen my bag left behind on my seat, and watched people walk past. They thought, 'we have to do something'. They took it to lost property, who told them they'd charge for me to collect it. And so they found my text message to Heather on my phone, arranging when and where we were meeting. They'd been trying to get in touch with her all day to let her know that they had my bag. And then they'd COME TO MEET ME.
For the first time that day, I burst into tears. I hugged them both. I'd let go of it all - my Kindle, my filofax, my phone, my iPod, all that much-needed cash. And here it all was. Returned to me - delivered to me on the other side of London - by strangers who wanted to do the right thing. I could hardly believe it.
On my way back from London yesterday, I read this:
"When we are forced to attend to the places where we are most stuck, such as when faced with our anger and fear, we have the perfect opportunity to go to the roots of our attachments. This is why we repeatedly emphasise the need to welcome such experiences, to invite them in, to see them as our path. Normally we may only feel welcoming towards our pleasant experiences, but Buddhist practice asks us to welcome whatever comes up, including the unpleasant and the unwanted, because we understand that only by facing these experiences directly can we become free of their domination. In this way, they no longer dictate who we are." (Ezra Bayda, from 'Beyond Happiness')
I know this to be true.
Photo: the tube by Matthias Rhomberg via Creative Commons with gratitude