A Rare Kind of Contentedness

There are some roads we travel on just once, and others we revisit again and again. It’s hard to know the significance of such a series of curves – gray concrete and yellow lines. But as I peer through my dashboard at the two golden orbs casting tunnels of light across the foggy I-5 Northbound in Oregon, I am reminded of a certain road I traveled on just once in Spain.

I was perched tall on the bus seat, bobbing gently as we chugged along the windy road. Sleepily, I pressed my nose against the cool window, staring out into a misty tide of fog. Each time we’d wind around a bend, the moon would shimmer, skipping alongside the dream catcher of forested hills to keep pace with us. I was returning to San Sebastian from a day trip to Bilbao.

There was something special that happened that day. I had met an unlikely friend: an old woman with pearlescent white hair.  When I got off the train at the top of the hill, I spotted her walking across the lawn with a limp, slowly dragging a checkered push cart behind her.

I walked to the railing that lined the park to take in the view. It was breathtaking. There were tall mountains and the charming city of Bilbao below, interspersed with patches of vibrant green farmland and a silver ribbon of river winding between them. The air felt cool, fresh and somehow, familiar.

I felt a presence approach behind me and turned to see a beautiful, smiling face studying me curiously. She must have been standing there for a few minutes watching me. We got to talking with the mediocre Spanish I learned in school and she told me that her parents were carpenters. They had once visited the old growth forests of Northern California and Oregon and told her about the unbelievably tall trees, she explained wide eyed with hands outstretched. Then she told me I should learn more languages and study a specialty outside of Journalism. I laughed, appreciating the motherly advice. I told her I thought it was a good idea. We chatted some more, using hand gestures and laughter to close the gap in our understanding of each other’s words. She invited me to join her for dinner the following night, and although I was touched, I had already purchased a bus ticket back to San Sebastian where I was staying with a friend.

We decided to take a picture together, stopping a passerby to snap the photo. After five, or what felt like ten kisses, and several hugs, we parted ways. As she shuffled down the path, just before dipping out of sight around the bend and down the hill, she turned once to blow me a kiss. Like waking from a dream, I stumbled out of the shell of my loneliness and felt my beating heart again. I blew her one back and turned to walk the opposite direction with tears in my eyes.

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I learned an important lesson that afternoon: that no matter how far from home, and no matter how alone I perceive myself to be, the world never stops inviting me to take its hand once more.

My short visit to Bilbao was wonderful, nourishing and provided the breakthrough I needed in the moment. The fog that crept in later that night no longer felt ominous, just as it doesn’t tonight on my drive home to Portland. The light of the moon and my headlights are enough.

In the comfort of not needing to see beyond just a few steps ahead, the ride can be the destination itself. And that creates a beautiful, rare kind of contentedness.

What Bells Ring?

Splashes of gold and red frame the sky. Wilted leaves crunch underfoot. The sun is shining but it’s cold enough that I’m glad I have warm jacket pockets to tuck my hands into. A lot has changed; a lot is changing. I remind myself that this is how it always is, and always will be. Still, I worry about change like the human that I am.

As I stroll down the sidewalk in my clunky leather boots, a gust of wind awakens a wind chime from the porch to my right. It dings loudly and then sways slowly to make a low-pitched rhythm. This question arises in my mind: what bells ring?

What bells ring? I’m not sure exactly what this means, but I’ll take it as a message, as I usually do when something as clear as day states itself from a place deep inside. Could it be alarm bells? Bells igniting purpose or passion?

Recently, I envisioned a giant wave come crashing down onto the shore of myself, only to rise up, hop on the wave, and ride it. Then, last night, I dreamed I was fending off a pack of wolves in an open field. It’s hard to determine where exactly my psyche’s at these days. All I know is I’m riding something big. I’m growing, I’m making mistakes, I’m overcoming challenges, I’m greeting change at the door. If you’re doing this too, then I commend you. You’re fighting the good fight, the only fight there is. And the only way is through…

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A Recipe for Change

Change comes whether we’re ready or not. Sometimes she’s a sly gypsy cat who slips in through the backdoor; we may not notice her until she’s dug up the flower bed or rearranged the laundry into her sleeping quarters. Other times, she’s a mountain lion, leaping from the rock and pinning us to the ground with one swift bat of a paw, just as we’ve rounded the bend and made peace with the distance we have yet to go.

I have a complicated relationship with change. I’m both enamored with her ability to catalyze growth and fearful of her tests of faith. Nonetheless, I’ve always counted on her to arrive just on time when I need her the most, despite my resistance.

Ah, the resistance. That dance we do to try and keep everything at a “perfect” status quo; a delicate balance of comfort and facts – holding fast onto the things we think we know are for certain. Many a time in the past few months, I’ve had to give up the known and barter it for the unknown (which has actually turned out to be much more nutritive to my soul).

And so I’ve been thinking, as multiple areas of my life are currently rearranging themselves, about a recipe for change. You know, like instructions and ingredients with the promise of something edible at the end.

Here’s what I’ve got…

Change: A Recipe

1 part denial

3 parts truth

at least 3 reliable, wise friends

phone calls, lots of phone calls for processing

2 week’s worth of imagining outcomes

4 days of setting goals and intentions

45 days of taking action

a minimum of 12 days of rest and rejuvenation

a bounty of self-care practices (this can include ice cream and/or wine consumption, bolting out of town for a brief escape, yoga class, walks in the park and if available, hugging someone you love)

two handfuls of perseverance and grit

an alarm clock

1 part trust

2 parts surrender

at least a few hours of sleep a night, preferably 5-6 (although now is not the time to worry if your cortisol levels are conveniently interfering with your average Z-schedule…just let it go, and carry on. You will survive.)

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir gradually. Add a sizable pinch of humor, followed by an adult beverage of your choice. As change begins to work its magic on your life, accept the unavoidable emotions as they show up: fear, excitement, anxiety, elation, sadness and doubt. Keep reaching out to friends and loved ones. Notice the plot, the villains, the heroes and the scene, but avoid building narratives in your head about what might, will or could happen. It hasn’t happened yet, and there’s no sure way to predict the future. (This is okay, despite your nervous system’s opinion otherwise.) Keep putting one foot in front of the other, focusing on the actions you can take today. Never give up. Trust that this change will ultimately nourish you, and that the new skills and strengths you are learning in the process will serve a purpose.

Repeat this phrase “There’s got to be a way through this.” Then start believing it.

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