The summer before my freshman year in high school, I went with a group of other ill-prepared teenagers on a bicycle ride across the state of Pennsylvania. There were grownups along for our safety but I wonder if any of us were truly prepared or equipped for the adventure. We rode some 60 miles a day which far surpassed my 10-15 personal best. PA is mountainous and curvy, some of my favorite characteristics of the world in general, and the riding was challenging. That’s without taking into consideration that we were sharing the roads with big trucks running through small towns at big speeds. Them, not us. We camped along the way at lovely state parks that I’m convinced are lovelier on sunlit days. It rained that trip. A lot. But each day my body and my heart grew stronger.
The ride would end at Ohiopyle state park in the western part of the state. We had reservations to raft the Youghiogheny river. 150 miles of river stretching through Pa, MD and WV, at 3477 cubic feet per minute. White Water running.
I love a good adventure and I love to find the analogies in my life. The thrill and the risk of bouncing through the smaller rapids, whetting appetites for the bigger spots. My life in a nut shell, where some have suggested it belongs. And then, the guide has us pull the raft over to the shore for a “pep talk”, safety review. The pace was going to pick up, the rapids were going to be bigger, more dangerous. People have died! I’m giddy with excitement. I don’t expect to die today but I would like to dance with danger and throw up a middle finger.
Safety lesson/warnings over. When in doubt, brace your feet and keep paddling. Hang on tight and enjoy the ride. Come on already. Let’s roll! Adult chaperones are nervous. It’s on them if they lose a kid today. I could see the fear in their eyes and even then knew adulting had way too much responsibility.
We pushed off. The rapids are still down river and appear paltry. I am initially not daunted. A few bumps are to be expected. We get closer. The volume of the crashing water has increased and I get my first glimpse of the entirety of the rapids. Outstanding. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to the guide. Do we stay right? Left? Jump out? My heart rate increases. I feel completely alive but I notice the fear seep in. The water gets rougher as we approach
the apex. Been there, done that. We are feet, now inches from the edge. Boulders surround us, inviting us to crash, like ancient sirens calling Greek sailors to their deaths. When in doubt…. I keep paddling. I will not drown today. I will enjoy this ride and the rush of the impending drop. And spin. And bobbing up and down as we navigate safely through. No capsizing. No getting crushed by rocks. And now we drift. Safely downstream in our little rubber boat. This river. It has shown us calm drifting and 6 foot drops. Class VI rapids and half mile stretches of trees and the occasional wild life.
Life: This river. I have been drifting for a while now. Enjoying the scenery and avoiding the random drop offs and outcrops. This is the part where the wise river guide pulls us over to the bank. Feels like there is a big rapids coming up. The river is moving faster. There are additional hazards to navigate. It’s fine. I have been riding this river my entire life. I can see the flow. I know the current. I have navigated enough rapids, from small to large. I have ridden chutes that scare me looking back but at the time were just part of the bigger flow. I know when to portage and when to lean in. I have been a swimmer. I haven’t died. I haven’t encountered this river before. I can see the drop off. The current is picking up. I am aiming my vessel at the confluence. This could be the greatest adventure ever or I could get smashed into the rocks. I am in the run and moving quickly towards the chute. There is still time to paddle hard to the bank and avoid this flow. When in doubt…..keep paddling.
Ahhhh. All of my recent restlessness. Signs. Flashing billboards alerting me to the upcoming road trip. The point a to point b direct line. I have looked for signs, listened to signs….obeyed the signs for as long as I can remember. Alright, most signs. When I did’t listen to signs, they just got bigger, flashier. The important ones never go away. Red-tailed hawks fly in and out lest I forget to pay attention to signs. And lately I have determined that if there is laughter, it’s the biggest sign of all, and not to be ignored. The Universe does not like to be ignored.
I believe the Universe wants us to have joy. Unrestricted, pure, proof-of-all-things-good joy. It demands it. Just too many of us have been conditioned to believe it is not our Jubilee. We don’t get a seat at the big table. I know. I believed that for a lifetime (or two). I had done nothing exceptional to deserve unabashed joy. And still it came. Continues to come. Despite my outright denial most days. Despite the voice in my head that tells me that it is a trap. Whose freaking voice is that?! Joy and happiness are my birthright. It would be rude to walk away. Besides, the Universe knows where we live. It will hunt us down and find us. Happened to me.
I believe in “when” not “if”. It will find us. To resist is to deny, to ask for additional, sometimes unavoidable signs. As if one could stop a storm from coming. Torrential rains pouring down, causing mudslides and flash flooding. As if you could will the sun to stop setting or coming back up in the morning. As if I could stop the birds from singing. As if.
Not that I am completely comfortable with joy. But that makes it sweeter still, knowing all of this stuff is fleeting. Knowing the smelling, touching, tasting is all in the here and now and no matter how rich, or smart or guarded, the next moment is never promised. And one never knows when the apple will fall directly into you hand or to the ground to turn brown. So, I guess I’m attached to Joy.
I pay attention to signs. I’ve never felt I had a choice. Eventually I know when I have discounted the signs. Always I come to know that the thing I initially discarded as just a flashy, unnecessary distraction, turned out to be the sign I needed to follow to avoid getting lost. I wish I had paid more attention when I was younger. Especially to that 25 mpg speed limit sign in Horicon, WI.
I really ,REALLY want to play my guitar right now!
Even the ukulele looks at me like I’m broken.
Can inanimate objects laugh?
Damn you music in my soul.
Just sing already. The words can catch up later.
If not, it will have to be enough that a small bit of pressure is released. A bit at a time.
This uncharted territory.
This strangely familiar and comfortable place.
A tsunami of sorts.
I willingly await the torrents. Bring it on.
I am a force of nature too you know.
I do not fear the impending wave.
I go head to head,
with all of the arrogance of blind trust in the path.
Two entirely different things.
Breath is life, required for continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
Breathing is the flow of in and out. The present moment. The now.
Breath is automatic.
Breathing requires trust and intention.
The guitar would be confused at the words that come before/without music.
I am sorry, guitar my friend.
The break up was entirely my fault.
But never my choice.
I need you now as I drift and bob and sway.
You would know the secret. You would have a song for this.
You would steer me north.
Damn you music in my soul.
Wow. My last post was super long. I guess I needed to process a lot. Thanks for reading and for the humbling comments. This post will be considerably shorter:
The night is still. The night is chaotic with activity.
This canopy of stars overhead,
Starlight just now arriving with such perfect timing.
The strawberry full moon is fashionably late
but she effortlessly takes my breath away.
Fireflies are abundant here.
I don’t want to sleep tonight.
I just want to lay out on the grass and watch the fireflies.
Tonight, the fireflies bring a new delight
as they dance above the fields.
Dance fireflies, dance.
It has been a longer than normal training travel for me. I prepared for the trip with less enthusiasm than I usually have. I am getting into a routine with my new old life back in PA. I have been meeting new people and making friends. All of this occurs when I travel too. I have the great fortune of meeting like minds in the motorcycling world. I generally look forward to these training trips with much anticipation. Something this time was different and I couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
None the less, as the dates approached I got into my pre trip ritual involving planning, packing, preparing. Issue number one: packing. A typical training schedule is a Friday through Tuesday. Just a long weekend. This time there are back to back weekends with a three-day layover in Milwaukee to celebrate my son’s 15th birthday. That means clothing for 12 days (including clean underwear), double the training tools I use and toiletries and medications. That means a large suitcase instead of my carry on North Face duffle. One small carry on which means lighter on and off but stopping by baggage claim which I can usually bypass.
Mindset adjusted. New friends will be there when I return. New friends will be made at the training locations. Big head Paulie dog got to go camping, so I know he won’t notice I’m gone. I’m off to the airport and assume my travel mode which involves putting in my earbuds and avoiding eye contact since I know I will be on people overload very soon. Good trainings mean the overload will encompass an emotional intensity that requires a recovery period. This trip would leave little down time for recovery but I love intensity so it will be fine. Still I am unsettled. One final, fuck it, and I’m on the plane, flying on to adventure. Final (first) destination, Birmingham, Alabama. Roll Tide!
A layover in Charlotte, a training trouble shoot opportunity and I’m fully engaged in the trip. I have my training hat fully in place and secured. Off to Bama. Touch down, rental car acquired and my soul is released driving north on highway 59. In this moment, time stands still and I am completely and totally alive, exploding with anticipation of the grand adventure awaiting. These rare and precious frozen in time moments are the affirmation my brain (and heart) need to maintain hope that living fully is still possible.
My training partner and I prepare for the transformation we both understand will occur in our participants over the next few days. What we can never prepare or plan for, though, is on what level of the Richter scale the transformation will register. That is part of the greatness of these things. A student stops in early to let us know she has arrived. This is my time, my sacred space and not yet ready for viewing. She has stepped into the middle of my inhale and thrown off my rhythm. The next three days my energy will belong completely to the participants and I want this final evening as mine. And yet, we finish the set up and leave for dinner where we can finalize our plan for the morning. I’m exhausted and intend to go directly to bed after dinner. When we get to the hotel, however, there are bikers out front. This is why I don’t wear any official training gear until after day one and found myself thinking I should have worn my Triumph t-shirt so that I could go unnoticed. I have been in contact via phone with the training participants last week and feel no need to begin interacting this evening (again, this is my inhale) but my colleague extends a hearty welcome and draws me in. So it begins: the sacred and holy journey of the participants’ experience. I excuse myself and retreat to my room and king-sized, pillow topped escape pod. Morning will end the silence I enjoy in my head right now. I have joy in my heart and have forgotten that I had some reservations regarding this trip.
I am back in central time but living on Eastern time so the morning was strangely right on time. My pre-game ritual was relaxed and unrushed. I made my way to the hotel lobby where the official first meetings occur as I am providing transportation for some participants. Arriving at the classroom, the other participants who are local begin to ride up and enter the classroom. The swagger they bring is intended to mask the apprehension I know they feel. I have been there. We will recognize and name that later. For now, it is simply welcome.
I have switched completely to training mode. I am smiling and welcoming, relating tidbits of information I have gleaned from initial phone contacts, personalizing the upcoming experience. I am cool. I am confident. I am the standard by which future trainings will be judged. I bask in this moment knowing that my next move will be to become insignificant, invisible. It is time. Time to shift the paradigms of yet another group of trainees.
The Richter scale is set off early as the class quickly connects and relationships are established. I freely admit that I fall in love quickly with these people who open themselves up so easily to a new learning and experiences. By the end of day one, I love all 18 of them. By the end of day 4, I am starting to miss my newest friends but must begin the process of disconnecting and preparing for the next group. It’s a process I have become accustomed to but never fond of.
Luckily I have scheduled a distracting interlude and will spend several days with my son in Milwaukee. Not so luckily, the airline has managed to lose my luggage. And there is a problem with my rental vehicle. But hey, I’m home again. Odd that should pop into my head. I mean, my home is Pennsylvania, the place I was born and raised. But there is a familiar sense of belonging I get, driving to my hotel. (In the shuttle provided, so I can figure out my rental tomorrow.) The hotel is close and only for my first night until I make my way to the quaint air b and b north of the city, closer to my son. I sleep well and wake up prepared to problem solve in the same outfit I wore yesterday.
The rental car is not going to work for the next few days so I Lyft to my next destination. A combination of frustration, sadness and homesickness/homecoming have me close to tears. Yet I don’t cry. I breathe it in. As soon as I reach my son’s house, the tears come. Luckily he is not home yet. I miss my newest friends but my Facebook newsfeed is blowing up with their posts and I know I have made a difference. And I am home, in a way, so the world is good right now. Then my son comes home and, for the first time in six months, I see this marvelous human being who calls me mom. He is taller, sturdier and his voice has deepened. I second guess my decision to have moved away. I have missed too much. Breathe it in. I don’t want to waste any of my short stay with sadness or regret.
I am able to enjoy a nice afternoon with this boy and ease back into a non-trainer mindset, walking through the world simply enjoying. I find my air b and b and have a lovely exchange with my Icelandic hostess. I relax and simply become a traveler. The only responsibility I have for the next three days is to be present. And to pick up my luggage which has been located!
I get a car for my training in Madison, Wisconsin, an hour from Milwaukee. I drive there and start the transition to trained professional. I have just done this less than a week and a half ago so it should be easy, but I resist the shift from participant to facilitator this time. I allow myself to believe that this next leg will be as intensely satisfying for all involved as the first. All I truly know is that my preconceived ideas are usually wrong. I have one last chance to disengage as I return to Milwaukee to celebrate my son’s 15th birthday. He is growing up without me. I am growing old away from him. There is injustice in the world and there is mercy in the world. I am dancing on the edge.
I return to Madison so that I can sleep in tomorrow. I have 90 minutes of drive time to become my trainer self. I am so attached to my present self that I am pulling into the hotel lot before I can concede that tomorrow I will be crossing over once again. Luckily, sleep comes swiftly, as does the morning waking.
There is only one other Harley shirt in the lobby so of course I make eye contact. I’m not ready to engage so I pour my coffee and sit down alone. When I go to the car to pull around to the hotel entrance, I notice I have a flat tire. I make the necessary calls and help will be dispatched. My colleague has come to the breakfast area and I update him on my situation. I will meet him at the dealership as soon as I am able. I can put off a bit longer, being a people person.
As I am waiting for AAA, I get a text from the dealership, insisting they NEED me. I suspect spoof as I view the photo of my co facilitator lying on the floor. No panic. Tire changed, it is a short, simple drive to the training location. Upon my arrival I find that my training partner had fallen and twisted his ankle. I introduce myself as the other physically challenged facilitator. And so it begins.
Perhaps it was the train wreck of a morning start but this group of trainees is tough! No smiles, no laughs and they are barely looking at each other. Plus, there are only 7 out of the 10 expected. Roll tide. The day ends and I get to the hotel as quickly as possible. Which means after I take the rental car back to swap out for another with a real tire on. AAA put on the mini doughnut.
Back at the hotel I greet my bed like a long lost friend, turn on some mindless cable and leave the day behind me. Sort of. These types of days are hard to let go of but I must have drifted off to sleep. How else would I have awakened at 3:00 in the morning, wide awake? By the time I really must wake up, I am tired and slightly tentative about the upcoming day. I make my way to the lobby, go out and check my tires (fully inflated!) and grab a cuppa. Surely a sign that today will be better.
Day two of training is when the magic begins to happen. Apparently this group didn’t get the memo. They continued to be reserved and quiet. Of course I assumed it was our facilitation. We survived the day and again I retreated to my hotel room. Sleep is a nice respite and I am always exhausted at the end of a training day.
Day 3: We plod forward. I am not entirely attached to this experience and I’m trying to make myself stay engaged. For the only time during this training, I go out for dinner instead of retreating to my room. I didn’t go with the group however and so it was just a quiet, reflective evening. Back at my room, I organized and packed my things so that tomorrow’s check out would be quick and painless. Sleep, my friend.
I wake up knowing I need only to get dressed and zip up my suitcase. All of the other details are addressed. I drive to the training location knowing I must just last 4 more hours. Then the drive to the airport. I have some extra time so I sneak in a last visit with my son. My heart hurts as I say good bye this time. Our next visit is unplanned. He promises me he won’t grow anymore before I see him again.
Storms move into the city. My flight is delayed. I will most likely miss my connecting flight home. It has been that kind of trip. An adventure for sure. A pain in the ass at times definitely. I just want to go…I don’t know where my home is at this particular point in time. I know I will be in Pennsylvania tomorrow at the latest. And then, I will plan my next adventure. It will for sure include sleep and sunshine somewhere. It is the end of this trip for me and time to breathe out. Breathe in again, breathe out. All I can do is keep breathing.
Somewhere in between vulture vomit and angel tears in yoga mats, the Universe woke up another brain worm: breathing, in the “in between” time.
I have been listening to more music as of late (thank you commuting time) and a new favorite of mine: Somewhere Different Now” by Girly Man, keeps striking a chord.
“Not quite lost, not quite found
I’m just somewhere different now”
So much of our life we spend on auto pilot, going through the motions. Having been exposed to meditation and become a practitioner of sorts, I am grateful to be able to recognize the moments at times that connect. I can sometimes even detect the intention required to participate. Sometimes a gentle reminder is required. I have stumbled upon some most excellent teachers , masquerading as regular human beings, (you have them too if you’re paying attention). When I say stumbled upon, of course it means they have appeared just when I needed them, bringing along the wisdom my soul is ready to absorb.
For whatever reason, due to whatever set of circumstances, I am raw and restless. I am in the place where life is serious shit, and I want to feel it all. So a teacher/cool-as-fuck human being appears and promptly calls me out. Yeah, I can feel the intensity. I celebrate and embrace the goodness. I have even learned to walk with and appreciate the darkness. But can I lean into the In Between stuff? I tend to avoid that. Which explains the restlessness I feel, the need I have to search. Not for person, place or thing, but out of the between.
And the Universe bombards. A quote arrived this afternoon,
“Everything ends, unless you stay in between. It’s much easier there”
In Between is where we become paralyzed, afraid to love, afraid to lose, afraid to take any risk for fear it will result in an ending. But endings are necessary for new beginnings. And I love the beginnings. I’m growing fonder of the endings. It’s the “In Betweens” I have to figure out. And I am not one for easier. So I breathe.
I’m not quite lost, no where near found, just somewhere different now.
I started what I thought was a short, amazing post several days ago. (I am inspired to post only amazing since I have such amazing friends who take time to read them) I read over it as I usually do and realized that it was cumbersome and strayed completely from my initial thoughts. When I went to read through it again (I write everything in a word document and then transfer it over to WordPress), it was gone. The Universe is a tough critic and editor but I figured I’d just start again, this time knowing where it started and where it jumped the tracks.
So, it started like this: I’m driving to meet some friends from high school who I have not seen for nearly 20 years. I can’t drive anywhere lately without passing farm after farm, (not an unpleasant thing at all). Pulling out of the development where I am, I notice the immense field of wheat across the street was turning a lovely golden color. Instantly I got a little jab in my soul. I don’t know if any of you have ever read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. If not, READ IT! Perhaps it’s my unsurpassed favorite, most influential book. But I digress already, AGAIN.
If you have read it, you’ll know there is a chapter where the Prince makes friends with a wild fox and must go through an elaborate process to “tame” the fox. When it comes time for the Prince to leave, the fox is sad. The Prince tells the fox that the taming has done him no good then but the fox responds that up until meeting the prince, wheat was of no use to him. Now he would see a field of wheat and be reminded of the color of the Prince’s hair and it wheat would have purpose for him.
I received the book as a gift from a friend. We spent a summer getting to know each other. It was one of the first times I let down my guard and let someone in. When the summer ended and we each had to go our separate ways, I was devastated. I had fallen in love with a girl for the first time. There was no conversation about such things then, internally much less out loud. It would take 15 years more years for me to understand and become my authentic self.
So here I am 36 years later, staring at the wheat fields, trying to make sense of the jabbing at my heart, and finally knowing what my heart understood back then but my brain could not yet process or explain. If I could reach across time and space I would say this to my old friend: “Here are the words I did not have then. You effected me. You changed me. I may forget your face someday, but I will never forget and always love your heart. Because of the wheat fields. Thank you. Thank you.”
I met with my high school friends and received more blessings of memories. How right our elders were. Don’t take it for granted. It passes so quickly. But is there not now a sweetness in the memories that comes with the benefit of present day wisdom, growth and words?
So, what started as a short blog post inspired by missing an old friend turned into a lengthier one on finding myself again. May we meet again, over and over.
I was only a teacher for 12 years but still I anticipate the end of the school year and the impending adventures of summer. It was my favorite time as a kid, now decades ago, when the freedom from responsibilities and infinite possibilities of what the days and weeks would hold revealed themselves. My first few years of teaching, though, I focused on the ending of summer and return to restrictive, unimaginative days and the angst of it all. What irony to have escaped the annual ritual of returning to school as a child only to return as my adult self for my vocation. Summer breaks were the reward for experiencing the Ground Hog Day-like reliving of the perpetual return to school.
I can see more clearly now that I should have focused more on the glorious rebirth of summer vacation. There were several times before last summer when I thought about quitting teaching but it always came down to not wanting to lose my summer freedom.
Surely I am not the only alleged grown up that is transported back to school days and the ending of such around this time of year? I freely confess, I am restless. I want the adventure. I’m grateful to have a job now that allows me the flexibility, and a consulting position that provides the opportunity for the adventures All in all, I one lucky son of a gun. It’s summer. Have adventure, will travel.
Even good days are hard.
If you are reading this, you either know me and these blog posts are the only real updates on my life I really share, or you have stumbled upon this blog somehow, maybe expecting information on strokes or stroke recovery and now it’s too late to turn away!
I realize that I have neglected this blog as of late. I attempted several times to write something but it never felt valuable to share.
The great relocation east was my attempt at reclamation. With the safety net of family and familiar surroundings, I was going to regroup and reinvent. Initially I had some success. Familiar sights, sounds, and smells. The only thing left to navigate was the strange new land of me.
I found myself once again dreading the day to day. Life as an insurance sales person not only made me feel slimy, (no offense to the insurance sellers) it left no time for me to experience living. My evenings were spent selling, my days, nights, weekends, all work. Nothing to look forward to, no time left after the extra hours and endless sales contests. So, I did it again…I walked away. No plan, no cushion, just fear that I would miss that next great adventure because I was too busy making money for my “upline”.
Walking away was easy this time, I want to live. Standing up and readjusting my sails, that part is always scary. What if I fail? What if I don’t? What if I am too old to reinvent? I always swore I’d grow old gracefully. I just didn’t count on it happening overnight. I began applying for jobs I know I am more than qualified to do but scared that no one in their right mind would take on an older, well-worn shadow of another self.
The Universe loves to prove me wrong and I landed a job that draws upon the experience of all my working career plus my personal experience with brain injury, the result of the stroke. I’m only part time and I’m making a lot less than I have in other jobs, but I make a difference and I feel like me again mostly. I’m satisfied. Happy. That’s it. Happy. I spend evenings now on the back deck of my sister’s house where I am living, days I spend with other people who have experienced brain injury by way of accident, illness or other. I teach them strategies for memory and organization and hopefully show them it all keeps going with or without our liking it. But sometimes we do. A different life can still be good.
But I know, and freely share, that even when days are good, it’s still hard. But that’s what makes it worth it. I heard a definition for “hell” recently: Your last day on earth and the person you’ve become meets the person you were destined to be. So many times, I thought I knew THE way, was on THE path, only to find it was A way and A path. There are more days than not lately when I wonder if it was enough, if I was enough.
I try to avoid getting lost in my thoughts these days. It feels like I am behind enemy lines. But I have always tried to understand it all on a deeper level. Being back in the part of the country where I lived out my childhood, I am frequently caught off guard by memories that surface when I drive past an old school, down a familiar street from my past, see a name in the newspaper of someone I went to school with.
I have had great adventures in my life. I have known a lot of people, places, and things. I have very few regrets. I usually tried things and went places when it may not have seemed prudent but, what I know about me solidly is that I have always wanted to experience life; not just read about it or hear someone else’s version. I have wanted to see, hear, smell, taste and touch all of life. I wanted to find that one great love. I’ve been lucky enough to have known several great loves. I have been witness to big love, real love, lived through fake love and I have been changed by it all.
If you stumbled on this blog and have experienced a brain injury due to stroke or other, keep up the good fight. There are many good days. And yes, even those are hard. It does make for a pretty good story though and like a good book, I can’t put it down. I want to know how the next chapter goes. I want to know how it ends. There sure have been some intense plot twists. That’s for sure. And there is always someone else whose challenges are greater. Make your story great.