Crossing the Line….

I am not one who is prone to tears. Never have been. A childhood filled with abuse teaches one that tears only bring reasons for more, and tends to create an intrinsic stoicism … but sometimes it crumbles. As I crossed the border from Texas to New Mexico, the facade collapsed and warm salty drops stung my eyes, quickly cascading down my cheeks. I pulled over. New Mexico in the distance In the hazy distance, sandy red rock jutted mysteriously from the flat burned land. I had finally made it. A longing born somewhere in the microscopic cells of my mind many long decades ago, fueled with maps and stories and books. A dream I unknowingly shared with my Father. A hope buried deep in quiet spaces of my heart … a hunger to “go west”. And I was here at last.

In my teens – what seems like a hundred lifetimes ago – I read a book, “The Haunted Mesa” by Louis L’Amour. An easy read, and one of the few fiction novels I’d ever bought, it somehow crept into my spirit and ignited a curiosity about the lands of mesas & arches, of peaks & pinyon, and of ravens dancing in a sky as blue as the ocean. A desire to know the spirit that not only inhabits a landscape that stretches far beyond what the eye can see, but also moves deep within the souls of those who walked here eons ago. In my early 20’s, I bought another book, “National Parks of the West”, and it became Map 2my ‘wish book’. I leafed through it endlessly, dreaming of the day I would see those places, and a few years later I shared it with the man who became my husband … but his dreams were only of Caribbean seas and piña coladas, so vacations were spent in cabanas while I kept hope of plateaus alive in my heart. The years went by, and occasionally I’d suggest we “travel west” for something different … not possible was always the reply. A decade came and so did the separation. I got little in the divorce … but I had The Book. And the map with routes outlined and towns carefully circled … the blueprint of a long-held prayer. Now I was finally here, beginning the Ride’s journey deep into the soul of these lands I have longed for so long to see. Is it a calling? Something conceived before I was a heartbeat in the heavens? Perhaps so. I do not know. But as I crossed that line between states, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d also crossed a line in my own history….

A New World…

I will never cease to be astounded and amazed at the diversity in this country … and I’m not referring to race or religion.  As I crossed the border from Louisiana to Texas and began the trek into what is called “the West” the landscape has changed.  The skies have shifted colors, the creatures that walk and fly and crawl on that same landscape are so very trail Canyon Lake TXdifferent than what this north-easterner has been accustomed to for so many years. Birds chatter around me in a language I do not know; I walk trails scattered with trees and brush and flowers new to my eyes and nose; little lizards scamper out of the way and things leap & buzz along the path that cause me to stop … unsure whether to be afraid or fascinated. Should I make noise to let them know I’m there, or silently move along? Butterflies and the tiniest flowers I’ve ever seen. Skeletons of buds and seed pods left scorched by the summer sun. Now in the west, everything is small … the buds, the flowers, the leaves. The trees are short and stout.  Even the pebbles along the trail are finely honed by years of sun and heat.

But then again, some things are bigger … fossils of large shelled sea creatures and remnants of early tools from long ago dwarf the tiny trilobites and small broken arrowheads I’ve stumbled across in Upstate NY. The states are extensive stone chopperand the drives are far longer, and getting from point A to point B no longer takes a few hours, but rather a day … or more.

But there is also a diversity to the people and culture that shifts as one crosses these borders, too.There are different words, different accents, different colloquialisms. Different opinions, different politics, different churches dot the town corners. And as I take off my jacket so to enjoy a warm Gulf Coast breeze at night, they tell me there’s a chill in the air and are scrambling to find a winter coat.

Now as I sit down to a table spread with a colorful array of food … new tastes, new smells, new textures … my thoughts not only go to all of the differences that make up mankind and this world, but to the kaleidoscope of colors and distinctions that work together to create each of us in our own uniqueness.  It’s as if we are, individually, states on a map … each its own territory … yet all a part of the larger piece.  A fragment of humanity, a scrap of the world, an atom of the universe.

Four Months…

Today marks 4 months that I have been on the road. 123 days.  A season has come and gone. I’ve stayed in or passed through 15 states, met dozens of people, slept on couches, beds, cots, and futons. I’ve shared in tears & laughter, heard heartening … and heartbreaking … stories. I’ve wandered through woods and gotten lost on city streets. I’ve had sleepless nights and exhausting days, and I’ve danced and sang with hawks and dragonflies. I’ve learned about others, and learned about myself in the process. It truly has been an amazing journey, and yet there is still so much more to come, as I soon begin the journey west. But for now, I think I’ll say hello to the skies above and raise a morning cup of coffee to the day …

4 month collage

To love a girl who wanders…

It’s been drizzling all day here, and rain always enjoys sprinkling pensive thoughts through the crevasses in a mind. At least, in mine, it does. I found the wonderful writ below a while back, and love the beautifully poetic truth it holds. I won’t deny I have long enjoyed my many years alone, but I also admit there is still a small, soft space in my heart that whispers on rainy autumn afternoons, “Perhaps one day, just perhaps…”

*************

Loj Road 2015

“To love a girl who wanders, you must know that her soul yearns for movement.

The beat of a drum, the whistle of a train and the summit of a mountain are all the same language to her, urging her to move.

Your voice and your touch, too, can speak the language of movement. That is the second thing you must know. If a girl who wanders loves you, her soul will sway to the cadence of your words.

A girl who wanders sees poetry in everything, from the magnificence of the stars to the dance of a blade of grass.

If you love her, you must realize that you are poetry as well. Write her haikus in kisses and limericks in tiny gestures.

She will understand what you mean.

If you love a girl who wanders, run beside her. Not ahead of her or behind her, for both of these will quickly try her patience, but beside her. Do not follow or lead her to the highest peak or the tastiest food truck in sight; rather, join your paths and walk with her. Match your stride to her, and she just might do the same.

This is a girl, a woman, a being who is accustomed to following her instincts and making her own way. She probably travels alone, makes friends easily on the road (bidding them farewell just as easily), and ignores the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign.

Compromise does not come naturally to her. Be patient. The constant give and take of a relationship will take time for her to learn, but when she does, you will find her more generous, more compassionate than you could have imagined. For a girl who wanders has made a study of empathy.

She is made of water. She knows fluidity and change.

If you love a girl like this, you must discover the secret of holding her in your eyelashes, for she will slip through your fingers.

Sometimes the water in her will spill over. You don’t have to ask why. Your presence is enough.

To love a girl who wanders, realize that wanderlust is a true affliction.

When her gaze is unfocused and her thoughts far away, know that she dreams not of other people, but of other worlds. Dream with her of caravans in the desert and of sea journeys centuries ago. Help her plan road trips, buy plane tickets, or even build a tent in the living room when there are no better options.

Her craving for adventure cannot be suppressed for too long, and if you love a girl who wanders, you will be on the seat beside her when it is time to go.

To show this girl your love, bring her wildflowers and found objects—she will appreciate the journey that went into their gathering. Dance with her whenever you can. Share her joy as she spins, gypsy skirts flying outward. Listen to her stories, for she will have many—both true and remembered—and save your own in a carved hollow in your mind for when she asks you to tell her one.

To love a girl who wanders, be prepared to say yes.Yes to adventures. Yes to treasure hunts and hopeless quests. Yes to a lifetime of searching. Do this, and she will, quite possibly, say yes to you.

A girl who wanders may not have many roots. You must offer her the depths of your heart and soul in which to plant sturdier ones. To act as soil and sustenance for another person’s spirit is both a privilege and a responsibility— never take it lightly.

If you love a girl who wanders, only give her what she can carry—nothing bigger than your heart. Anything larger would be a waste. Accept her need to seek—strive to comprehend it, even—and comfort her when the leaves fall across her path and she feels lost.

Let her wander through the labyrinth of your mind, and marvel at the beauty she finds there. Hold her in your eyelashes, the lines of your hand and the ridges of your forehead, and wander with her.”

(Author: Toby Israel)

More to Come!

Oh, I’ve been a bit remiss as of late, I know, I know. My apology. Many miles have been traveled since I last posted back in mid-September … 5 states, a half-dozen families met, lots of laughs laughed, a few challenges faced, hundreds of hugs given and received. Subway rides, museum and mountain ventures, long drives, new accents and foods, blossoms in October, warm nights and crickets still chirping. Cats and birds … and a llama. Lots to share. But right now I must pour over my maps,sandia road  connect the dots and arrange the road and stops westward toward Santa Fe NM, where I’ll be spending the winter months. There is much to say – not only about the people and places along the journey, but about the journey itself… and what has become of the person who began this trek four months ago. And, there are many stops yet to come. Santa Fe will bring chilly months during which I can – and will – write … catching you all up on where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. As well as to share some insights … and what promises to be a bit of a revelation to many who know me. All very soon to come, I assure you.

But, for now, I have to get back to my calendar and maps. I will be back soon…

(don’t forget, there is more on The Ride’s Facebook page.  Short snippets & lots of photos … a travelogue … of the journey along the way!)

A Love Story

Wooden Picture Frame: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/wooden-picture-frame

In mythology it is said that the Raven is the keeper of secrets, silently carrying whispered confessions into the eternal void for refuge and safekeeping. Along this journey I have heard many heartbreaking stories, and even now – so early into the Ride – carry many secrets with me. It is an honor and a privilege to be entrusted with such a gift … and it is a trust I will never abandon. Occasionally these shared moments contain a story that begs to be told, and with permission, I share them. This is one such story.

I knocked on the door that Sunday morning, excitedly expectant … I was about to see friends I hadn’t spent time with in over 30 years. But I never expected what I saw when the door opened, or what I witnessed over the following week. Life & time had taken us along different roads and the last day I’d spent with them was their wedding day. It was a small, family gathering … a homemade cake, most of us in jeans, a friend with a guitar sang and there were many smiles and lots of laughter. I remember thinking how well suited they were for each other … both sensibly pragmatic, both athletic, both loving routine afternoons spent on the golf course, and both enjoying life, good friends, laughter and a couple of cold beers at the end of a day. They were a good match, and I had no doubt the marriage would last many years. And it did.  It does, still.

The door opened, and I smiled broadly at Robert* … he hadn’t changed a bit in those 30 years. Well, maybe a bit more gray in the beard. We hugged warmly, said our “it’s so good to see you’s!”, and I turned to Nancy*. She stood by his side smiling, thinner than I remembered her, but there was something else … a vacancy behind the smile, and an emptiness behind her eyes. I’ve seen those eyes before … eyes in the nursing homes I worked in long ago that questioned why a spouse or child never comes to visit – moments after the children leave. I opened my arms to hug Nncy and felt her arms wrap around me in an empty non-recognition. “I’m glad you’re here.” She said, with a smile. Yes! My face broke into a grin … maybe I was wrong, and things were going to be alright, after all. But they weren’t.

Weeks before I started this Journey, I wrote that I could not even begin to fathom how I would change along the way. I knew my life would be incredibly altered by the people I met, but I didn’t expect that one of the greatest gifts would come from sitting at a kitchen table, watching a love story unfold.

A year or so ago, Nancy suddenly got very sick … some kind of infection, the doctors said. In a body gone haywire, she battled sepsis for a week in ICU before coming to a place of semi-recovery. But something happened that week … something happened to the vibrant, active, smart-as-a-whip woman that I’d last seen 30 years ago.

“Do you want dinner now?” Robert asked her.
“Yes.”  she answered curtly.  “I want steak.”
“But we’re having chicken, honey.  Remember, you wanted chicken tonight.”
“No!! I want steak!!” she shouted angrily. Then, “Yes. Chicken. I need my mints…where are my mints?  I want my mints!”
And with that she walked out of the room.
A few seconds later, “Hey Buddy, are we having steak?” she asks as she comes back in the kitchen.
“No, honey, we’re having chicken, remember?”
“Yes … ok.  I like chicken.”  “Corn?” She walked out of the room again.
“If you want, dear, we can have corn.”
“I don’t like corn…”

Over the week, the same discussion repeated itself a thousand times in a thousand ways about a thousand different subjects. Robert’s responses were always quiet and patient, always kind, always forgiving. Later that night they sat together at the table, a simple crossword puzzle spread between them … “Nancy, who was the girl in the Wizard of Oz?” No reply. “You remember, the one with Toto?” Still no reply. Over the following hour, occasional disjointed answers would come back. And for next five days I watched Nancy pace uncountable times from bedroom to kitchen and back again; from garage to family room and back again; from spare room to office and back again. I watched as she locked-unlocked-opened-shut and re-locked doors, drawers, cupboards.  I watched as she shouted and struck out at Robert, demanding trips to the store for cigarettes or mints (as stacks of them sit on the counter) … and then in a heartbeat turn to me and say, “I’m really glad you’re here.” Though Robert & I chatted and reminisced at night, Nancy & I had no conversations, no walks down memory lane, no catching-up on 30 years.

But in the those five days I also witnessed two people give birth to a kind of love that speaks what words cannot. In spite of the challenges a long-standing marriage invariably faces, they are standing side-by-side in love to face an uncharted future. They are facing it together … even when one of them doesn’t realize it. Even when the challenges are doubled by fear.  Even when the chalkboard memories of a lifetime that were so carefully written are erased by an unknown demon. And in those five days, I witnessed a re-birth in my own heart.

I’m not a crying kind of person. I was raised rather stoically and tears are few and far-between … but twice that week I cried myself to sleep as my heart not only ached in sorrow, but also overflowed with tears, breaking open in the remembrance of something I’d long put aside.

“Thank you.” I said to Robert as we stood on the porch the morning I left. “Thank you for reminding me that love really does exist.”  I gave my friend a last, long warm hug, and tossed my bag in the car.  A new day, a new stop awaits….

*names have been changed for privacy

A Final Goodbye….

I stood at the bench, and put my hands on his shoulders.  “Goodbye, Dad … I won’t be coming back”.

Those of you who know me personally know that my life has not always been the easiest … and from very early on, it’s been that way. Born to parents who had deep psychological problems, the story of my childhood – physical, emotional and mental abuse, shuttling between relatives, too many moves, and torturous humiliations & degradations – could easily fill a book. Or make a great Lifetime TV movie. It’s been about survival from the beginning, and it’s made me strong … sometimes too strong. You see, I don’t cry much. But last Thursday morning, as I drove to the spot where that bench sits, the tears streaming down my face forced me to stop more than once.

In December of 1971, the latest antics of my parents finally caught the attention of the authorities, and soon I found myself safely ensconced with a kind and caring foster family, where I stayed until I graduated high school just a handful of Dad 7-13-03 Polaroidmonths later. The day I left home was the last time I saw my father until we reunited 32 years later. Though we had many difficulties, we also had some good years early in my life and I still loved him dearly … the reunion was sweet, and so I spent the next 2.5 years visiting every week, even deciding to buy a house and move closer so I could see him more often. Those years were a gift, and I learned much about myself and my family. We laugh, we shared stories, we talked for hours on end. He’d cook for me, and I’d help clean his house. We took long walks by the Susquehanna River … initially strolling leisurely side by side, but in time the walk became too difficult, and as those days became more & more frequent, I’d help navigate his wheelchair. And we sat on The Bench. Only hours after we ‘re-met’ on a hot July afternoon in 2003, I took a photo of him sitting there and soon it became “our” bench. A special place to sit and watch the days go by, blue skies slowly turning into dusky sunsets peppered with bats coming hungry for the buffet of tiny mosquitos.

Though our time together was precious and answered so many questions I had, there were still dozens left lost forever when he passed away just a week after my 51st birthday. Days later, I learned he stayed true to the man I knew as a child, willing everything he owned – aside from a simple family ring he’d given me weeks earlier – to a neighbor, choosing again not to acknowledge my presence in his life legally or obituarily. In those last years together I never got a birthday or Christmas card, he never apologized for the beatings, nor had he ever said he loved me. He taught me early on that I was worthy of little and that real love doesn’t exist in my world … and he concluded his presence in my life with the same lesson. It was a lesson I carried with me most of my adult life … but this journey – this Ride – is opening my heart and eyes with new lessons:  I’ve watched love in action among the couples I’ve met, and gingerly ferreted out the differences between what I’d been taught and what is real. And with that comes an allowing of the tears to fall in anger and  acknowledgement of the wrongs done, and the betrayal felt.

I’d forgiven my father years ago … what is done is done, and with his own limitations and challenges I knew he could do no better. But as I stood at that bench, hands resting on the shoulders of his ghost, I said goodbye for the last time, and walked away. Catching a glimpse of “our” bench in the mirror as I turned the ignition and shifted the car into gear, I smiled. I had no regrets. I turned the corner, shifted once again, and accelerated into a new day…

bench in rear view 1

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ~ Kierkegaard