The Gift…

“The greatest gift of life is friendship…
and I have received it.”
~ Hubert H. Humphrey

And it is a gift whose moments often bring the softest of tender tears to the heart and soul. Although “The Ride” itself has ended, there are so many wonderful moments to look back on, and I hope you’ll allow me to share a story of this one – one of true transcendence from what probably were the most cherished few hours along the journey….

Judy and I were high school friends – well, in reality, she was far more than that to me. My childhood and especially my teen years were difficult at best; actually they were often terribly frightening and brutal. I was beaten by an angry father and suffered through many years of extreme emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a schizophrenic mother. I recall more times than I can count being tossed out of the house early in the morning, clad only in my jeans and sneakers no matter the weather – rain, snow, heat – and told not to come back until the evening, when it was time to do my chores. Due to a number of reasons beyond my control I had few friends or places to go. Judy and her family, though they had their own challenges, would take me in, feed me, give me shelter and warmth. I could always knock on their door, and it was always open to me. She and I – and a couple of other kids at school who were a bit ostracized – would gather at lunch in the stairwells, playing guitar and singing songs of peace and hope to come. It was a circle of calm in turbulent times, both personally and politically. In many ways she and her family saved my sanity, and we developed a bond that existed beyond a need for words or constant contact. So when I began my journey in June of 2015, I’d hoped with all of my heart to have a chance to see my old friend, as I knew I’d be stopping briefly in Pittsburgh – where I’d gone to school, and where she still lived. It had been many years since I’d visited that city and it took a while to get my bearings, but on a day that will forever be beautifully etched into my memory, we reached across the bridge and closed a decades long gap.Another friend from high school was playing mandolin at an Irish Pub in town that night – I was to go with him, and she would join us there after work. I’d not seen Judy in 43 years … since our graduation day. I waited nervously – how had she changed? Would we still be friends? Would the connection still be there? The minutes ticked by insufferably slowly. It was almost time for the band to start, was she coming? Had she changed her mind? After innumerable heart-stopping openings and closings of the door … nope, not her, sigh … the long awaited moment finally came. It honestly was if a slow motion Hallmark movie … we shouted and screamed and ran toward each other, caring little about what anyone saw or heard, or the stares and mouths agape. Embracing, rocking, not ever wanting to let go again, tears streaming down both of our faces. We spent the next few short hours catching up and talking … yet, in many ways we didn’t need to. And then we said our goodbyes once again.

There are connections that lie beyond the realm of words, but rather live and breathe in spirit beyond. The greatest gift in life is friendship … and indeed, I have been blessed and honored with this most incredibly beautiful of gifts.

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To Arrive and Know….

“And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
~ T. S. Eliot

summer-geneva-seneca-lake-bench-signed.jpg

It’s a funny thing, but as I once again gather my few belongings and prepare to move, I find myself often on the verge of tears as I carefully divide and package bits & pieces of things collected along my journey … mementos and celebrations of the two-year “Ride.” I admit, I had not expected the surge of emotion that has flooded my soul as I recognize that at long last … I am truly going home. Home to the town that sprang from the farms and fields that many generations of my family plowed; home to the land and lake that I and my ancestors so dearly loved; home Seneca Lake Geneva farm art - Ravensongto a place that I knew … at the age of 10 … I’d one day move to. Though I lived there briefly a few years ago, it was more of a momentary whim at the time, but now, as the realization sinks in, I am overwhelmed with a myriad of feelings … joy, anticipation, excitement; and also a tender awareness and amazed astonishment at what a marvelous Life these last few years have been for me. It surges deep, like I’ve not born since 2002 when I moved 300 miles to NY in the anticipation of going home. It has taken 15 years to come to full fruition.

There is a softly whispering sense of wistfulness as I gently fold the stacks of maps that guided me mapsnearly 26,000 miles … was I really there? Did I really do that? Did it all really happen? A special box holds treasures from the Ride … rocks, shells, cards from friends, and four pieces of clothing: The jeans I loved for so many years that finally wore through, ripping at the knees one day as I walked the Rio Grande Gorge; a t-shirt I always wore while traveling between stops … “Get Lost” it reads, with a tent and tree decal on it. It seemed so appropriate. Another, stamped with the logo of a friend’s pizzeria in NY where I “worked” at the beginning of that long cross-country sashay. And another shirt … the first one I bought on the road, and one that was a little more hip than I usually would buy … one I received kudos for, for stepping outside of my comfort zone. I wore it to threads, and it became a part of many changes that ensued over the 23 months that followed. So many moments, so many memories. And now I pack them, and myself, up – and prepare for a new kind of adventure … a bold proposition to weave my meandering self into the framework of community, friends, art, work and love.

I have truly been so incredibly blessed in this life. It has not always been easy … in fact, many times it’s been especially challenging, painful, and disheartening … I have been beaten, abused, raped, homeless and hungry. I have walked the tightrope of suicide twice. But I have also been thoroughly and unequivocally lavished with love, joy, compassion, and more beautifully wonderful moments than there are numbers in the heavens to count. Every morning when I stand facing the dawning sun, my heart swells with a peace and deep joy that surpasses all of the hard times. I knew in May, when I took this pretty little furnished apartment, it would not be where I would call home; I knew it was to be my place of transition, the spot where I could take the time to piece together the who-I-was before my journey, and who-I-am-now; it was the hallway leading to the next phase of my life. And so now as I wrap and box my few things – ready to begin again from the proverbial square one as I have not done since I was 17 (in a totally empty apartment) – I look forward to all that is to come … and back on all that was. A deep sigh escapes my lips, and I smile as my eyes glisten, dampened by the sweet salt of sentiment.

me 6-17-17 shadow Seneca Lake

Home…

“Where we love is home …
home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

It is so good to be home. I sit on the deck, this beautiful Sunday afternoon, book in hand, wine glass filled and sitting tableside waiting to be enjoyed. When I decided to leave the west, with all of its stunning beauty, and return to the humid, snowy, bug-besotted Finger Lakes region of NY … well, let’s just say that many of my friends out there thought I was crazy. Yes, it can be frustrating when you hang your laundry and two days later it’s still damp, or it’s a given that you need to get up an hour earlier most winter days to shovel your way to the car, or you buy allergy pills and/or anti-itch cream by the caseload (ok, slight exaggeration there, I admit) … but, this is such an incredibly beautiful area: A landscape covered with a legion of lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, canals, and dense prismatically colored forests; shale crust deeply furrowed by ice-age gorges that still weep crystal clear water, moraines dotting their bases; ground softly caressed by checkerboard farmlands and cavalcades of vineyards; craggy mountains still growing upward, unlike most, and capped with boreal life; millions upon millions of acres overflowing with a marvelous and fascinating diversity of flora and fauna – like no where else I saw in my travels. Few people are aware of just how very rural and wild NY is. The city most think of is only a tiny dot on the map of this state, and far far away from me.

Don’t misunderstand me … don’t get me wrong … I enjoyed every minute of The Ride. I saw places I never dreamed I ever would, and met wonderfully beautiful and kind people – generous of heart and mind – every step of the way. I have not one minute of regret or reticence about what I did, and I am grateful beyond the capability of any word in the human language to express … but I am glad to be home. In the wanderings of my journey, I quickly discovered that everyone has a place that shouts “Home!!” to them. It is not necessarily where they were born or even where they lived most of their lives … oftentimes, it is somewhere totally unexpected. But nevertheless the heart knows it. I was born and lived most of my life in Pennsylvania, yet by the age of 16 I knew that Upstate NY was Home for my spirit, even though I’d only visited twice – both times very briefly. A friend of mine who lived in NY all her life knew the moment she stepped from the steps of an airplane in Oklahoma, this was Home. She’d never been there before. Another friend, though originally from Alabama, but living 20+ years in the valley and mountains of northern Utah, recently moved to the red rock country – deep into the four-corners desert west. It has always cried “Home” to his soul. And there are many more similar stories. What is it  that makes a place “Home?” What is it our Spirit recognizes? Perhaps a DNA memory – a connection to the land deeper than we realize. Perhaps we look down from the heavens long before we are born and pick a place … and the game of life is to find it before our bodies wear out. I do not know, and it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that The Ride is at long last complete; I have returned home, and I have returned to myself. And the joy of the full recognition of this is as deep as the gorges of this land, and as kaleidoscopically beautiful, and indefinable indelible, as the heavens above.

(photo courtesy Michael Bailey)