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Archive for October 29th, 2009

Change of Terrain

After a delightful, if brief, visit catching up with my old friend Ty in Albuquerque, I made it to the Grand Canyon in a single day. The weather gods were beyond charitable, I worked on my driver’s tan (both window- and sunroof-side), and even going 83 miles per hour, was able to take in an incredible variety of terrain.  On the advice of other travelers I’d met, I had booked a room ahead at the South Rim, and since I’d done so only a day before, the fee was non-refundable.  I awoke that Saturday morning weary, and began to regret having committed to making it to the Grand Canyon by nightfall.  But after a plate of huevos rancheros ABQ-style, and repeated apologies to my sweet Golden Retriever friend for leaving so soon, I was charged up and on my way.  The perfect weather – blue skies with low puffy clouds at the far periphery – was energizing, and along I-40 I sped, feeling happier by the moment.  On this day, I finally just felt good.  Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Greatest Hits (Volume I) served as a surprisingly suitable soundtrack to the desert highway, and I felt the joyful zing of being alive.  Parts of Arizona reminded me of Jordan and Israel, where I had traveled in similar weather, and enjoyed a similar sense of wonder.  I was powerfully aware that I was deep into The West, and consciously received the wide open sky I had so badly needed.  I drank the desert scenery as I had never dreamt possible.  Every mile seemed to tender ever more fascinating rock formations; I passed through the Painted Desert, zipped by Red Rock and the Petrified Forest.  But as this trip was about the going, and not so much the seeing, I took in what I could from the highway, knowing that visiting these extraordinary sights was an agenda for another time.

Around Flagstaff, I saw signs indicating something along the lines of  “497 miles to Los Angeles.”  And it made me stop and think “Huh!”  I  somehow didn’t realize I was only a day’s drive from the ocean, that the west coastline was so near, and that  I’d already gone that far across the country.  I had to stop inside myself and make a choice – because there were no “musts” about this trip, except that I must go.  But I chose easily, and in short order.  I’d done California, lived on the west coast.  But I had never been to the Grand Canyon.  Still, it felt so good to make that choice, consciously, and to have the choice to make.

While driving through the desert, I also became aware of a feeling that as I stopped with friends along the way, I was peering in on others’ lives already in progress.  In the way that interrupted TV shows would then return you to your regularly-scheduled programming, I would zoom off and my friends would resume the lives they have chosen to be living.  And I felt myself the high-speed wanderer, untethered, yet wanting my own life already in progress, too.  More than once, I’ve thought I had that; but as the conditions were usually defined externally, the life or lives each fell away – over and over.  I don’t wish to be a drifter, but lately seem always to want to explore what else is out there or possible.  Is this an inability to commit to something in my life, or just a manifestation of unmeetable, idealistic expectations?

I would like to know what it feels like to have a sense of my own moorings, and attend to my own programming in progress.  But I feel as though I don’t know which life to inhabit, and visiting other people’s lives, if anything, seems to illustrate the variety of lives I’ve tried or temporarily resided in previously.  I thought I was inhabiting a certain life when I got married.  The trouble was, it was never really my life; it was my husband’s.  And ever since the end of the marriage, I’ve been unsure what life to tenant.  It seems that all this traveling I do, which I love, is sort of a way of checking into possibilities; yet when I return, I don’t really abide in a life at home for very long and feel satisfied or settled.

Around the time I got married, I had discussed my longstanding feeling of geographical rootlessness with my best friend, and she had suggested “maybe a person is your home.”  It sounded poetic, and true, and so I trusted that was to be the case.  Again, I see now how that was positioning my own sense of mooring to depend on conditions beyond myself.  I know I need to find a home within myself, but then what?  It seems that to inhabit a life and have a home of some sort, there’s got to be something, a commitment of some sort, that you come back to, whether it’s a person, a career, or other sense of purpose or belonging.  Without any of these, I am working my way from the inside out for the first time in a very long time.  And it is often hard to discern the difference between these external tethers and more internally-based stays.  Most people seem to have this sorted out by now.  My friend Pedro and I have discussed how he made a commitment to a profession a long time ago, and he admits that as long as he stays in motion, he never, ever, questions whether his life is purposeful. Staying in that kind of motion may have repercussions elsewhere in his life, but he doesn’t go to sleep a single night, or awaken a single morning, wondering why he’s here or what he’s doing, because he made a commitment early on to a certain kind of work.

While I was never someone in constant wall-to-wall relationships, I also can’t help but wonder if the relationships I’ve had – or even all the education I pursued – over the years actually protracted or delayed the process of finding that sense of home within myself.  Those external commitments seemed to afford me that thing that I came back to, often in ways that looked constructive and conventionally acceptable.  But in reality, they only served to assign my identity from without, and as often happens when donning the fashion choices of others, the trappings never quite fit or felt like my own.

By the time I got to the Grand Canyon, this trip, this Walkabout, truly felt like it was my own.  I had driven most of the way across the country, alone, against the better judgment of some, the advice of others, and to the puzzlement of a few more.  Very little about this exploration bespoke a conventional 45-year-old woman’s birthday celebration.  And I really didn’t care – I was not invested either way in being conventional or a free-spirited type, and this was itself liberating.  I arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon just in time for sunset against a pristine sky.  As I walked the rim alone amidst the other tourists, breathing in the solidity and expansiveness of this staggering immensity, I felt something unfamiliar:  I felt proud of myself.  I was proud of myself, that I’d undertaken this trip, had honored my needs and stretched my soul, and had actually made it to this miraculous place at last.

Grand Canyon at Last

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