Sheltered behind my cubicle walls, I heard her voice above the typing of keys, the slurping of coffee, the early morning chatter, as she agonized over a breakfast spread set up just outside a neighboring conference room.
As others came by, grabbing scones or muffins or fruit cups or coffee–definitely coffee–she chatted them up. Hello’s and how-are-you’s and an occasional introduction.
But those little chats were just circles; they never ventured far from where they started. And they always came back to the bagels.
“I’m thinking about having a bagel,” she’d declare to no one in particular. “I ran this morning, so I think it’s okay.”
Minutes would go by. Others would come to stake their breakfast claim and again, she’d pipe up: “I already went for a run today, so I can probably have a bagel and it’ll be okay” or “Six miles is enough to cancel out a bagel, right?”
Part of me mentally smacked myself in the forehead each time I heard her seeking out justification for her food choice. We’re talking about a bagel for heaven’s sake, not deep-fried challah french toast. Not to mention it wasn’t even nine ‘o clock in the morning and the woman had already run half a half marathon.
Part of me wanted to stand up, peer my head over the wall of my cube and say, “YOU’RE GONNA BE FINE. EAT THE DAMN BAGEL ALREADY!!”
But part of me was all too familiar with the circuitous journey she was on. A roundabout road toward health and happiness and self-contentment with the occasional toll of sanity that must be paid along the way.
I’ve argued myself in and out of many a morning run, a tiramisu, and yes, even a fresh-baked bagel. I’ve measured out two tablespoons of hummus to accompany my carrots, just to make sure I didn’t accidentally overdo it. I’ve brought my own packed lunches to untrustworthy dinner parties, so I wouldn’t be trapped without a healthy option. I’ve sopped the grease off my pizza with a paper towel. I’ve had my fair share of low fat and no fat and low sugar and no taste.
I’ve fallen victim to the endless pinwheel of longing, indulging, guilt, and regret, and I’m acutely familiar with the same empty hole that waits in the middle . . . whether you eat the bagel, or you don’t.
Somehow, I found my way out of the loop. I’ve stopped running from bagels or running for bagels. I’ve stopped counting calories and fat grams and minutes until lunch.
But I still recognized the dread and doubt and indecision in that woman’s voice. And I hated every moment for her.
I’m not sure if she decided to eat that bagel or not. And really, it doesn’t matter. It would have plagued her either way.
I do hope one day she sees the justification she needs can’t come from her coworkers at the breakfast buffet. Or her husband. Or her children. Or parents. Or friends.
I hope one day she stops running in circles and makes peace with herself. And all the bagels she has yet to consume.
Photo credit: Pretzel Bread Bagels via Miss Munchie on Etsy