This past Christmas was different. This wasn’t only because I spent it with new friends in a new place. In addition to the location difference, there was a deep change within myself. Being honest, I didn’t know that change was what I was going to write about in this post, but, here we are.
What I wanted to write about was the immense amount of kindness bestowed upon me by my ‘host family’ this holiday season. I was going to tell you about the simplicity, ease, and caring that filled me on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Here I was, in the home of people whom I’d not met until a month earlier, celebrating the most familial of holidays, and feeling completely accepted and at peace.
During the day, I reflected on Christmases past. Most of these I had spent with my family in New York celebrating in our traditional ways. I thought about how closed-in that world of mine was. I recognized how growing up in small place with a large, tight-knit family sheltered me considerably.
I called my parents house early that afternoon, but they were quick to shuffle me off the phone due to a neighbor who was visiting. I noticed how my heart winced at this lack of attention. I then noticed how familiar that wincing felt.
My day continued on. I called it “The Lazy Christmas” because none of us decided to get out of our pajamas much before 3pm, and, even then, it was a stretch. I also saw it was a loving Christmas as I witnessed a mother, father, and daughter who all showed each other, and me, the utmost respect. I was grateful to experience their example.
I was also quite grateful for their hospitality as evidenced here:
After our usual enlightening and fun conversations, I made my way to bed. When alone in the room the thoughts and feelings of home again flowed over me, but this time with ever more sadness. I’d love to tell you the sadness was due to missing my family and our traditions, but it wasn’t. Instead I felt sad for not missing them much at all.
It is this feeling I continue to sit with and process despite decades of running. It is this feeling which I have been denying all this time.
Let’s see what happens as I finally face it, shall we?
I write to you after a week spent back on the East Coast. My current location is Lincolnton, NC; a smaller town about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte. It’s rural here. It’s maybe not as rural as where I grew up, but there is certainly a great deal here which reminds me of my hometown.
Not the least of these reminders are my childhood friends who currently live in the area. In fact, I’m here because a friend whom I’ve known since I was 4 years old needed a pet sitter while her and her husband honeymoon in New Zealand. I am delighted to be that pet sitter! (NOTE: Their pets are really cute… AND they have a beagle)
Being surrounded by reminders of my youth has me thinking of a line from a book I recently read:
After all, it is the root that looks after the survival of an organism. It is the root that has withstood severe changes in climatic conditions. And it is the root that has regrown trunks time and time again. It is in the roots that centuries of experience are stored, and it is this experience that has allowed the tree’s survival to the present day. ~ The Hidden Life of Trees; Peter Wohlleben
When I read this, I paused. I’ve often thought of my current journey as one in which I’m getting back in touch with my roots. When one spends so much time alone without much external stimulus and distraction, it’s kind of hard not to go through this process. It’s a process where I’m constantly figuring out and trying to own who I am, why I am, what I believe, and how I want to live in this world. It’s also a process where I investigate how these beliefs were established, or became rooted, to be begin with.
If, as the author says, a being’s roots are the key to its survival of chaotic and changing times, it seems a necessary exercise to get back in touch with mine. After-all, they are what store my experiences and allow me to be who I am in my present day life. If I don’t unearth them, I fear I’ll remain a shell of what others say I should be instead of identifying with my core and living my own narrative.
And you know what… I’ve lived as a shell for far too long.
I arrived in Tucson last Thursday prepared for another arrival in which I’d share a night with the homeowner. When I drove through the city limits I immediately felt something utterly strange.
I felt comfortable.
It was the first time in my adult life I remember feeling so at ease in my own skin.
When I drove into the neighborhood I saw it was deeply contrasted from the pomp and circumstance of my Orange County, CA arrival. This Tucson hood was a more simple place, and it felt way more welcoming.
I parked in front of the house and walked up to the door. I was surprised to see a woman of 70+ years opening it. This is the homeowner?, I thought to myself as I calculated the size of the dog, her living alone, and her being on a house sitter website at all. I caught myself going into an act to try to charm her, and I immediately stopped myself.
When I stepped into the kitchen and looked about the modest home, I initially felt disappointment. Shortly thereafter, after dropping the act for a moment, the disappointment started to morph into another sensation I hadn’t felt in my adult life.
I felt at home.
We walked to the backyard of the house, and I noticed a sense of recognition. Tucson reminded me a great deal of San Antonio, and the backyard brought back memories of my time there. I wouldn’t say I necessarily had visual memories flood me, but more I remembered the energy I felt while living in San Antonio. I also saw how very far away from myself I was at that time in my life, and I extended gratitude for the opportunity to find my way back.
As I walked with the homeowner about the house I watched her feed the dog, water the plants, and maintain the home, all the while taking my usual mental notes. I also cracked my usual jokes, and once again put on my usual charms; none of which she responded to. Not a single one. Instead she stayed in her own energy and went about her chores, explaining everything to me as she went.
I watched her with her dog. Her energy was completely calm, and the dog incredibly loving and responsive. There were no worries about his behavior or concerns about his habits. Instead it was just two beings who cared for each other living together; a deeply beautiful sight to witness.
When we went to the front of her house her neighbor was putting out more Halloween decorations. He greeted me amicably from his yard, then walked over. The three of us chatted for a bit, and the neighbor invited me to the Halloween block party he and his wife throw every year. It was more than a warm welcome. It truly felt like a homecoming event.
There was no grand dinner or cocktail event that night. It was simply me and the homeowner sitting in the living room with her dog talking and watching the news. I asked her about herself; where she was from, where she was going, what she was doing here in Tucson, and I learned so many interesting facts I fear I can’t share them all.
For example, I learned she once taught on a Navajo reservation where she lived for 11 years. I learned she lived in this current house for 36 years (NOTE: my age), and that she used to teach business at the community college nearby. I also learned that this time each year she goes with a surveying team to a state park in the desert where they record Native American petroglyphs for the park record books; something she has been doing since the 70s.
I sat and listened in awe and reverence. For what I saw before me was a self-actualized individual living her best life. Yes, I was in the presence of someone who had architected their best life, and when I realized this, I saw in her a potential future Self.
I immediately realized why the universe had brought me here to Tucson; to take in her energy, her life, her example, and to drop the act. I know I’m meant to keep from my observations what works for me and discard what doesn’t. Her example is the clear next one needed to help me architect my own best life.
It’s safe to say her energy has stayed with me over the past week, and I continue to examine all aspects of it.
Despite these profound interactions, I have made some time for adventuring and sightseeing. Not only was I able to find some coffee:
… BUT the homeowner also left me her membership card to the Sonora Desert Museum! Here are a few shots from my walk around there:
I also made my way down to the famous San Xavier Mission:
So, it hasn’t been all work and no play. Though, one thing is for sure. Whatever it is I’m doing out here on the road is working. How do I know? Well, to feel a comfort within myself that I haven’t felt in over 30 years, that’s something to me.
In fact, that’s what this whole adventure is about.
Leaving the central coast of California was hard. One of the main reasons is because it’s so damn pretty there. The landscape is gorgeous, the energy is comforting, and living just feels so good. I WANTED to belong in that place.
As I walked around the neighborhood and existed in its borders, my craving to call it my own grew. I observed my thoughts: Oh look at how cute and homey that house looks. I bet a beautiful family life exists there; one full of comforts and laughter and even hard, but loving times. I grew sad at knowing these thoughts were a reflection of my grasping. I became even more dispirited thinking about my current life of travel seemingly to nowhere. Nowhere, somewhere so far from the scene I was witnessing each day.
I went hard at my reflections on the depressed feelings which grew in the lead up to my departure. What was I REALLY sad about? After all, I’m lucky enough to be able to live in many places if I wish. Nothing is holding me back from settling in somewhere. I could make a life with a home and a husband and even children.
After several days of reflection before and after the trip, I finally got it. I understood what the whole journey is about. It’s not just about building a life based off the pieces and parts you’ve been told are needed, then somehow feeling some sort of grand happiness and fulfillment when you’re done. It’s not about building or making a life at all, really.
It’s about making life yours.
I stopped to think further about it. Making life mine. It certainly isn’t a new concept. After-all, a dear friend of mine has been trying to help me understand it for years. He was constantly reminding me that if I kept doing things as I had been (i.e working to get the job I think I should have or working to find a husband like I think I should or working to accrue all the material goods that make a successful adult life) without first understanding who I am and what fills me up, I’d build a life on a faulty foundation. This foundation would be such an unstable base that if one of the external aspects is removed, i.e. a job is lost, the entire life crumbles.
Imagine building a house with a foundation where if one brick is removed the whole house crumbles. Not the best idea, am I right?
Finally, after sitting with my depressed feelings and being honest with myself, the idea made sense to me. Yes the world I was witnessing looked and seemed amazing. However, it too would leave me feeling unfulfilled if I tried to live it without first clearing out the “shoulds”, facing my fears head on, dealing with them, then deciding which aspects of life I want to keep and which I want to let go. That is the journey I’m on… the journey we are all on.
Making life our own.
During these reflection, I also realized I was grasping while trying to remember each detail of a place I’m in. I saw this grasping also served to support the “shoulds” of life. I understood on a new level the sentiments sent to me earlier that day via one of the homeowners whose return I was sad to miss. He ended his email with:
“Enjoy your travels, adventures, and surprises along the way; as it is the moments not the passage of time that we cherish most.”
What I keep from each stop on my life’s journey are the lessons and moments which allow me to grow into the person I am. The seconds where I practice patience and compassion, the moments I appreciate a beautiful scene, the times when I observe myself overcoming my fears and doing something different; these are times which need not be remembered as they become internalized into the fabric of my being.
They are moments I will cherish always. They are mine.
Earlier this Summer, I shared with you some reflections I had during a road trip I took from Washington State to Los Angeles. After said trip, I hopped on a plane to New York. This flight kicked off my July and August on the East Coast. During that time, I’ve traveled up to New England, down to the South, and back again… an adventure I’ll write about in future posts. Before this adventure started, however, I spent 10 days in my hometown. It’s this stint I want to reflect on today. Here goes!
Balancing adventure time with staying still time is important
When I arrived in upstate NY, one of the very first things I noticed was my need to stay put. I had a great desire to not leave my parents’ house. Normally, I’d try to get out at least once or twice to see old friends and family, but not this go around. I simply wanted peace and quiet. Luckily, staying in a town where cell service still isn’t reliable was just the place to fill this requirement.
In reflection, I saw that all the energy I expended on the road needed to be balanced out, and boy am I glad I took the time.
This isn’t my home anymore
This was a big one! Despite all the peace and quiet being helpful, I finally recognized it wasn’t on my terms. I saw that my parents live here 24 hours a day / 7 days a week / 52 weeks a year. Who am I to come in and request they not start lawn mowing at 7 in the morning so I could get more sleep? Who am I to ask that they free up the bathroom in the mornings so I could get ready for work? I used to be a resident here, but I’m clearly not anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I have stayed at my parents for days and weeks on end a time or two during the past 18 years of my life. However, this time around I connected with the fact that I simply don’t live here anymore and I no longer have any sort of say in what goes on in the house. It’s not my place to make requests or to change anyone else’s routine. I saw how before when I would come back to visit, I would slide back into my roll as a child living in the house. This time I recognized how this slide no longer serves me (it probably never did) and I pulled back on it right quick.
This meant recognizing that when I’m here I’m a guest who has to maneuver my time around the routines and constructs of my parents. This is something I’m finding increasingly frustrating, which also means it’s something I’ll be addressing in future visits (either by staying somewhere else or preparing my schedule differently).
In addition, I saw this small town also wasn’t my home anymore. Yes, I grew up here, have a great deal of family still here, and can probably go into many of the local establishments and be recognized, but I simply do not hold dear the same values and beliefs of the surrounding community. My world has shifted, and my points of view along with it. I’m a visitor here, and knowing this makes me feel both excommunicated and liberated.
I’m not sure where these realizations will take me, but I am sure recognizing them is important (and probably something I should have done long, long ago).
We grow up and we grow apart. That’s OK.
Going along with the above themes, I also realized how much I’ve grown apart from those I spent much of my childhood and young adult years with. I attended a wedding shower for a friend I’ve known since pre-school and felt fraudulent for doing so. Having gone many places and done many things in my life without having my hometown friends around me, I suppose this feeling only makes sense. We aren’t on the same pages anymore. This doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, it’s just a reality of being an adult who leaves.
I know the sooner I own and accept this fact, the lighter and more prepared for additional growth I’ll be.
On July 1st my friend and I started our East Coast road trip which will be featured in the next installment of this blog. Until then, I find myself in this sort of limbo between who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I suppose this limbo is what living life is all about, though. Who knew?